Modi's Banaswara shift and BJP's 11-seat jolt: The many messages from Rajasthan results

The eleven seats that the BJP shockingly ended up losing in 2024 offered a striking contrast to their sweep of the desert state both in 2014 and 2019.
Taking aim: PM Modi with a bow and arrow at the now-famous Banaswara rally.
Taking aim: PM Modi with a bow and arrow at the now-famous Banaswara rally. (Photo | ANI)

It was the rally that gave the first indication about Narendra Modi probably realising that all wasn't going to plan in the BJP's Lok Sabha election campaign.

At Rajasthan's Banaswara on April 21, the PM suddenly changed his poll pitch and trained his guns on the Congress party and its manifesto.

"Yeh Congress ka manifesto keh raha hai ki woh mataon aur beheno ke sone ka hisaab karenge, uski jarthi karenge, jaankari lenge aur phir woh sampati ko baant denge... Bhaiyon aur behno, yeh Urban Naxal ki soch, meri mataon, behno, aapka mangalsutra bhi bachne nahi denge (Congress' manifesto says they will take stock of the gold mothers and daughters have and will distribute that wealth... Brothers and sisters, this Urban Naxal thinking will not spare even the mangalsutras of my mothers and sisters)," the Prime Minister proclaimed.

His direct attacks on Congress and attempts to whip up fears around what they could do would continue throughout the campaign from then on. The PM also began talking up the possibility of the INDIA bloc forming the government and the troubles that this could unleash.

If this change stemmed from a warning that had been relayed to the Prime Minister after the first phase, subsequent events showed it reflected the ground reality.

In Rajasthan itself, the BJP suffered defeats in eight out of the 12 seats it contested during the first phase on April 19.

Interestingly, in the second phase on April 26, which went to the polls after the PM's shift in rhetoric, BJP candidates emerged victorious in 10 out of the 13 constituencies in the state.

Banaswara was one of the three seats that went to the INDIA bloc in this phase, with Bhartiya Adivasi Party leader Rajkumar Roat, supported by the Congress, besting the BJP's Mahendrajeet Singh Malviya by a margin of 247054 votes.

The eleven seats that the BJP shockingly ended up losing in 2024 offered a striking contrast to their sweep of the desert state both in 2014 and 2019.

Their main rivals Congress secured eight seats in Rajasthan, and candidates from the INDIA bloc clinched two more seats besides Banaswara.

In another seat, Jaipur Rural, the BJP snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, with a wafer-thin margin of 1,615 votes.

The disillusionment among voters with the BJP was evident from the results from the Barmer-Jaisalmer constituency, the second largest Lok Sabha constituency in India.

BJP candidate and Union minister Kailash Choudhary finished third, trailing the victorious Congress candidate and an Independent. Ummedaram Beniwal, who switched from the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) to the Congress, emerged the winner and independent MLA Ravindra Singh Bhati came second.

Additionally, Union minister Arjun Ram Meghwal (Bikaner), and Speaker of the 17th Lok Sabha Om Birla (Kota) both faced tough fights.

Modi factor failed to work?

A notable aspect of this election was the ineffectiveness of religious polarisation in Rajasthan.

Banswara was a case in point.

The results indicate that Rajasthan voters focused on local issues and candidates rather than on national and emotional issues like the removal of Article 370 and the Ram Mandir, which were highlighted by PM Modi.

Notably, the BJP lost seven of the 11 seats where Modi campaigned.

How caste played a role

Caste politics also played a crucial role, overshadowing religious narratives.

The conflict between Jats and Rajputs was particularly evident in Churu.

BJP leader Rajendra Rathore's opposition to sitting MP Rahul Kaswan intensified this divide, leading the Jat community to turn against the BJP.

Congress state president Govind Singh Dotasara, a Jat, capitalised on this sentiment, particularly in the Barmer seat where he succeeded in mobilising Dalits and tribal communities against the BJP.

Sachin Pilot (L), who had a great election, seen with Mallikarjun Kharge, the Congress President, at an election rally.
Sachin Pilot (L), who had a great election, seen with Mallikarjun Kharge, the Congress President, at an election rally.PTI

Sachin Pilot on a roll

The Sachin Pilot factor was also influential.

Pilot's lobbying efforts proved crucial for six of the eight Congress winners, especially in the Gujjar-dominated regions of eastern Rajasthan.

Congress' Sanjana Jatav won in Bharatpur, Chief Minister Bhajanlal Sharma's home district, with significant Gujjar support thanks to Pilot.

Similarly, the Congress' Murarilal Meena won in Dausa, a stronghold of state Agriculture Minister Kirori Lal Meena.

Other Pilot-backed candidates, like Brijendra Singh Ola from Jhunjhunu and Bhajanlal Jatav from Karauli-Dholpur, also won.

Alliances helped - even the candidate who lost six elections

Alliances also played a key role.

The Congress formed strategic alliances in three seats -- Banswara, Nagaur and Sikar. In Nagaur, Congress partnered with the RLP, formerly an NDA supporter, and fielded Hanuman Beniwal, who defeated BJP's Jyoti Mirdha.

In Sikar also, the Congress-backed Comrade Amararam won. This victory was very special because Amraram had been defeated in six previous elections.

Apart from this, there was significant anger against the BJP in the Shekhawati region due to the dispute over the farm laws, the lack of action against the former president of the Indian Wrestling Association Brij Bhushan Singh despite serious allegations made by women wrestlers, and the controversial Agniveer scheme.

The three seats of Sikar, Jhunjhunu, and Churu fall within this Jat-dominated region.

Some experts also say that the BJP's failure to take any action against Gujarat minister Purushottam Rupala despite his statement against the Rajputs meant they faced the community's ire. The party had to pay a price in many seats.

Ab ki baar 400 paar backfired?

The Ab ki baar 400 paar might have also proven burdensome for the BJP.

Statements by BJP leaders hinting at potential changes to the constitution once the party crossed the 400-seat mark originated in Rajasthan. Jyoti Mirdha and Deputy Chief Minister Diya Kumari were among those who made such statements.

These stoked worries among the Dalit and tribal communities that they could lose their reservations if the BJP secured a majority.

Consequently, both of these communities, which are among the most populous in Rajasthan, voted against the BJP, inflicting losses on the party in numerous seats.

Taking aim: PM Modi with a bow and arrow at the now-famous Banaswara rally.
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Setback for Gehlot

Despite the Congress' otherwise strong showing, Vaibhav Gehlot, son of former Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, lost his seat in Jalore-Sirohi to BJP’s Lumbaram Choudhary.

This defeat could significantly impact Ashok Gehlot's political future and also that of his son.

The defeat in Jalore has intensified internal jostling within the Congress party.

In response to the loss, Ashok Gehlot offered a clarification. He stated, "Jalore has always been a challenging seat for us. We haven't won it in the last 20 years. The party has supported us, so it is our responsibility to stand firm, whether we win or lose."

The former Chief Minister emphasised the difficulty of winning the seat and commended Vaibhav for making the effort.

"We knew from the beginning that the seat was very difficult. Vaibhav Gehlot decided to contest understanding the situation of the country, the state and the Congress. The election campaign went very well. There are wins and losses in elections. If you have the feeling of service in your heart, then what is defeat and what is victory?" Gehlot said.

Sachin Pilot reacted to the defeat, stating, "Vaibhav Gehlot could not win in the last election, he could not win this time either. He will work harder next time and will win from somewhere."

While Pilot did not directly criticise Vaibhav, experts interpret his statement as a subtle reminder that the younger Gehlot is being given repeated opportunities due to his father's influence.

What the result means for the BJP

Meanwhile, the BJP's losses are likely to cause unrest within its state unit, potentially jeopardising the position of newly-appointed Chief Minister Bhajan Lal Sharma.

The results could revitalise the faction led by Vasundhara Raje, sidelined after BJP's assembly victory.

Notably, Raje’s son, Dushyant Singh, secured his fifth consecutive victory from Jhalawar-Baran with a thumping 370989 vote margin.

Several other factions are also reportedly unhappy with Bhajan Lal Sharma's elevation and they might turn more vocal.

Kirodi Lal Meena has already put pressure on Sharma by offering to resign because of the losses the party suffered in his area.

The coming days will reveal whether the Rajasthan CM will face further repercussions.

And for the Congress?

Post-election, the internal dynamics within the Congress are expected to shift with Sachin Pilot and Govind Singh Dotasara, president of Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee, emerging stronger.

Ashok Gehlot's role as a senior observer in scripting the famous Amethi win will, however, also keep him in play for now.

(Map and Chart: Immayabharathi K)

Taking aim: PM Modi with a bow and arrow at the now-famous Banaswara rally.
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