The rout in Rajasthan byelections, seen as a semi-final encounter, must serve as a wake-up call for the BJP leadership ahead of Assembly polls in December. The signs of the saffron party losing traction among rural voters were first available in the recent Assembly polls in Gujarat where it was at best a pyrrhic victory for the ruling party in the wake of heavy losses in rural areas. The message from the desert State is clearer as it delivered a devastating triple blow to the BJP. A resurgent Congress, under the leadership of an indefatigable campaigner, Sachin Pilot, wrested Ajmer and Alwar Lok Sabha seats and Mandalgarh Assembly constituency from the ruling party with huge margins. For a party that had swept the 2014 polls bagging all the 25 Lok Sabha seats, the resounding defeat in byelections is a huge embarrassment. Ironically, the news of the electoral drubbing came on a day when the NDA government unveiled a populist pro-farmer Budget to correct the perception that it was fast losing the rural narrative. Clearly, the ground beneath the feet of BJP in its ideological hotbed is shaking. It is time the votaries of Hindutva politics realised that theirs was a game of diminishing returns and that development mantra alone can win the confidence of the people. The bypoll outcome is a stinging indictment of Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s style of functioning and a rejection of politics of polarisation. The performance of her government in terms of delivery of key citizen services leaves much to be desired. There is also a growing opposition to Raje’s leadership within the State BJP.
Besides the anti-incumbency factor, unchecked cow vigilantism, frequent bouts of caste violence, growing attacks on Dalits and social tension and inept handling of the unrest over Bollywood movie ‘Padmaavat’ have all contributed to the negative image of the government. The State is reeling under rural distress and severe power crisis. It is time the BJP leadership learnt lessons from the bypoll verdict and made appropriate course correction to be in the reckoning for the Assembly elections. The credit for the stunning triple victory must go to Pilot who did commendable work on the ground and led the campaign from the front while steering clear of the divisive issues. The outcome is yet another example of what strong regional leaders can do to national parties if they are properly nurtured and given a free hand. Pilot, a level-headed backward class leader with a clean image, has the potential to do to Rajasthan what Capt Amarinder Singh did to Punjab. However, the Congress must reform its ‘high command’ culture, which stifles the growth of regional leaders and encourages centralisation of power fuelled by sycophancy.