The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP desert queen glitters minus an earring

Jaipur, Dec. 4: Ashok Gehlot’s Congress today realised the folly of ignoring signals from the ground as the BJP, riding an anti-incumbency wave in Rajasthan, inflicted on its rival its worst defeat since the post-Emergency elections of 1977.

Twenty-five ministers — including Gehlot’s two deputies, Kamala Beniwal and Banwari Lal Bairwa, and home minister Gulab Singh Shaktawat — bit the dust, though the outgoing chief minister retained his Sardarpura seat in Jodhpur.

Gehlot accepted defeat and submitted his resignation to governor Kailashpati Mishra in the evening.

The Congress’ rout means Vasundhara Raje will become the desert state’s first woman chief minister. Raj Bhavan sources said Raje, who won from the Jhalrapatan constituency, would be sworn in on December 8.

Raje also succeeded in achieving for the BJP what even party veteran from the state Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, now the country’s Vice-President, could not — a simple majority. The maximum the BJP had managed on its own so far was 95.

As the results poured in and the trend became clear with every passing hour, the crowd at the BJP headquarters swelled. Party workers burst crackers and the smoke hung like a mist on the lawn in front of the office.

But Raje, with a red tika on her forehead and a ring only in the right ear — she had lost the other in the press of the crowd — appeared composed in her hour of triumph. At 4 in the afternoon, she called a news conference and thanked the media for “helping” her and her party stay alert during campaigning.

Raje said she did not think the anti-incumbency factor was responsible for the pro-BJP wave. “It is a vote for development,” she said. She thanked the Jat Mahasabha, which had appealed to the community, otherwise a traditional support base of the Congress, to vote for the BJP.

For Gehlot, it was a day of agony. He remained at home watching television with a few well-wishers. Later, he came out on the porch to talk to waiting reporters. “Democracy is the most beautiful system in the world,” he said.

“People’s verdict is honoured and accepted,” he added, before retreating with a bow.

Gehlot realised that his party had lost support in the Jat belt of Shekhawati, Jodhpur and Bikaner divisions. In his home district, the Congress won in only three of the nine constituencies. In adjoining Nagaur district, which falls in the Jat belt of western Rajasthan, the party lost in nine of the 10 segments. In the capital city of Jaipur, all five constituencies will now have BJP representatives. The Congress had won four of the seats last time.

Public works minister Harendra Mirdha, son of senior leader Ram Niwas Mirdha, lost in Nagaur, while another minister, Deependra Singh Shekhawat, was humbled in Shri Madhopur in Sikar district.

Higher education minister Shailendra Joshi and civil supplies minister Janardan Singh Gehlot could not even put up a decent fight and were pushed to the third position. Deputy Speaker Devendra Singh was humbled in Banera constituency in Bhilwara district.

Many of the ministers who won did so by narrow margins. Even Gehlot’s margin was less than half of what he had won by last time.

Sources said one main reason why the party lost was its lack of understanding of the ground situation and failure to read the signals sent by the electorate repeatedly since the 1999 Lok Sabha elections when the ruling Congress lost 129 Assembly segments. This trend had continued through the subsequent Assembly bypolls, but the party refused to read the writing on the wall.

In the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, the Jats had raised the banner of revolt against the chief minister, making it more than clear that the peasant community was opposed to Gehlot. The community leaders had sent an unambiguous signal that they would not support the Congress till Gehlot was replaced by a Jat chief minister. But the party high command persisted with him. It was under the impression that he would be able to deal with the disgruntled elements.

The Gehlot government’s disrespect for party workers, who were alienated from the power structure, added fuel to the fire. This was reflected in the large number of rebels in the fray.

About 150 rebels, of both the BJP and the Congress, either joined smaller parties or decided to contest as Independents. It is now clear that they harmed the Congress more.

That for the first time in its history, the ruling party’s election manifesto carried only the photograph of Gehlot on its cover, ignoring the organisational head in the state, Girija Vyas, also spoke of the over-dependence on the “performance” of the government.

Many in the organisation did not like the idea, but their sentiments were ignored.

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