Rajasthan: the state where BJP lost its biggest vote share

Barring Jaipur, which showed a rise of 2.84 per cent in favour of the BJP, all remaining 24 seats showed fewer polled votes than 2019

Sachin Pilot celebrates with supporters after the results (photo: @SachinPilot/X)
Sachin Pilot celebrates with supporters after the results (photo: @SachinPilot/X)

Prakash Bhandari

The resilience of Congress candidates, combined with their will to fight, enabled the Congress to avert a BJP hattrick in Rajasthan. In both 2014 and 2019, the saffron brigade had made a clean sweep of the polls, winning all the state's 25 Lok Sabha seats, but this time, even with a state government led by the BJP, the party lost 11 seats to the Congress and its allies.

The statistics are telling. Even in the 14 seats that it won, the BJP's vote percentage fell from 2019. Barring Jaipur, which showed a rise of 2.84 per cent in favour of the BJP, all the remaining 24 seats showed fewer polled votes in comparison to 2019.

Overall in the state, the BJP garnered 49.24 per cent votes, while the Congress grabbed 37.91 per cent. For the BJP, this represents a fall of 9.23 per cent from 2019, its biggest fall anywhere in the country. Incidentally, the biggest gain for the BJP came in Odisha, where it increased its vote share by 6.96 per cent.

The triangular contest in Barmer saw the vote percentage of the Congress rise to 42, and in Ganganagar (SC) the increase was 16 per cent. The 14 per cent fall in vote share in Banswara-Dungarpur helped Congress ally Bhartiya Adivasi Party wrest the seat from the BJP, which had fielded strong candidate Mahendrajit Singh Malviya, who left the Congress to join the BJP, resigning his seat in the Assembly. Will he now realise that he may have taken a wrong turn?

The Jats, a powerful community politically, seem also to have supported the Congress, seeing as it won all four seats with a significant Jat [resence — Jhunjhunu, Sikar, Churu and Barmer. The Jats were reportedly annoyed with the BJP for ill-treating state BJP president Satish Punia, a Jat, and also sidelining former chief minister Vasundhara Raje, daughter-in-law of Jat stronghold Dholpur.

“It seems that apart from the Jats, the combination of Meenas and Gujjars also supported the Congress. Sachin Pilot (a Gujjar and the state's ex-deputy chief minister) managed to bring the Gujjar and Meena communities together to vote against the BJP. BJP Meena leader Dr Kirori Lal Meena, who threw himself into the campaign to ensure a BJP victory in Dausa (ST), was so sure of a win that he had announced that if the BJP lost Dausa, he would resign. Now, he is being asked to do so by his detractors,” political observer Anil Choudhry said.

Congress activist Dinesh Sharma said there was no 'Modi wave' this time, but there was no undercurrent in favour of the Congress either. In fact, the Congress swam against the tide to win eight seats. “Voting patterns and trends show that if the Congress begins preparations based on the learning from the results, it will bounce back to power (in the state) in 2028,” Sharma said.

Former chief minister Ashok Gehlot was involved in two major pre-poll decisions by the Congress. One, he roped in Prahlad Gunjal — who lost to Shanti Dhariwal, a member of the Gehlot cabinet, for the second consecutive election — and pitted him against Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla in Kota-Bundi. Gunjal, a Gujjar, gave Birla a tough fight and scored over him in the rural areas.

Gehlot further convinced the party leadership in Delhi to not put up a candidate against Rashtriya Loktantrik Party supremo Hanuman Beniwal in Nagaur, where his opponent was Dr Jyoti Mirdha, who deserted the Congress before the Assembly elections in November 2023 to join the BJP. Mirdha, however, has lost her second consecutive election and is being describes as a turncoat.

The Congress also played its cards well when it fielded sitting BJP MP Rahul Kaswan, who was denied ticket by the party this time, from Churu, which he duly won.

The Congress performed better than 2019 in the seven SC (Scheduled Caste) and ST (Scheduled Tribe) reserved seats, winning four. During the campaign, the party managed to convey to the electorate that SC/ST reservations would be in danger if the BJP returned to power. The resulting apprehension worked well for the Congress, and barring Adivasi votes in Udaipur and Banswara, it was successful in securing the votes of the Meena community in eastern Rajasthan.

In the November 2023 state elections, the BJP won 115 seats while the Opposition won 85, but that seemed to matter little. “We knew the BJP was on a sticky wicket and was finding it tough to combat the challenge posed by the Congress. Many who had won the 2019 and 2014 elections by several lakh votes saw their margins reduced to a few thousand.

"In the Jaipur (Rural) seat, Congress candidate Anil Chopda lost by a margin of only 1,600 votes. Such was the resistance offered by our candidate. In the Vidhan Sabha election, our candidates won in 11 Lok Sabha constituencies. This was a pointer which we could see, but an overconfident BJP could not understand. We focused on these seats and got the results,“ state Congress chief Govind Singh Dotasra said.

Gehlot, who has been a very vocal critic of incoming PM Narendra Modi’s policies, said he had noticed during the campaign that people were not liking Modi’s "imposition", and the fact that he was the sole face of the BJP.

"The people thought Modi was attaining a dictatorial position, which was bad for the country. He was very boastful during his campaign speeches, and his caustic remarks against minorities was not even accepted by Hindus, who thought Modi was overplaying the Hindutva card with the sole aim of gathering votes," Gehlot said.

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