In the Rajasthan bypoll elections, held in the aftermath of the agitation that tailed the release of Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmaavat, the Congress Party has wrested two Lok Sabha seats in Alwar and Ajmer and one Assembly seat in Mandalgarh from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The three victories for the Congress and the significant winning margins in the two Lok Sabha constituencies is likely to set off alarm bells in the BJP camp ahead of the Assembly election which will be held in Rajasthan by the end of the year.
Rajasthan has voted the BJP and Congress Party into power in turns for the past five state elections.
Both sides had campaigned intensely for the bypolls which were held on January 29. In Alwar, Congress candidate Karan Singh Yadav beat BJP's Jaswant Singh Yadav by almost two lakh votes. In Ajmer, Congress candidate Raghu Sharma beat BJP's Ramswaroop Lamba by over 84,000 votes. And in Mandalgarh, Congress candidate Vivek Dhakar beat BJP's Shakti Singh Hada by over 11,000 votes. It is worth pointing out that in Mandalgarh, the Congress pulled off a victory even after one of its former leaders, Gopal Malviya, contested as an independent.
The BJP's huge defeat, just one week after the Vasundhra Raje government failed to implement the Supreme Court order that called for the screening of Padmaavat in the interest of freedom of speech and expression, has raised questions as to whether the two events were connected. In other words, did the results reflect public unhappiness at how the BJP had handled the situation.
While the Congress steered clear of defending free speech, the BJP failed to rein in the Rajput Karni Sena, the fringe group that has led a violent agitation against the movie. The Karni Sena claims that several aspects of film, including the portrayal of the titular character of Rani Padmini by Deepika Padukone, tarnish the image of the warrior caste. BJP governments in four states backed the Karni Sena's agitation, with some leaders making it an issue of Hindu pride. Eventually, the Karni Sena terrorized Rajasthan to the extent that cinema and multiplex owners decided not to screen the movie and the public stayed mum.
Interestingly, in a recent interview with HuffPost India, Karni Sena president Mahipal Singh Makrana claimed that the the Rajputs were also unhappy with the BJP government for failing to ban the movie and his group had backed the Congress in Alwar and Ajmer. "But the Congress people at the national level don't even know that we are supporting them. They are so dumb, they are speaking against us," he said.
The Karni Sena founder Lokendra Singh Kalvi said today that the BJP lost because of its failure to ban the movie. "For the first time ever in Rajasthan bypolls, candidates from ruling party did not win. Padmaavat was not banned so it took the shape of outrage which was evident on 29th January and its result came today. I would suggest to the Prime Minister to ban it. It is the only solution," he said.
The bypolls were made necessary by the deaths of the BJP lawmakers who held the three constituencies.
Meanwhile, elated Congress Party leaders congratulated each other over their victory.
"A huge victory for the people of Rajasthan. Hats off to the hard work put in by all Congress workers, leaders, volunteers and well wishers. This is the start of the end of BJP in the state," Rajasthan Congress chief Sachin Pilot tweeted after the results. "Young people have realised that the politics of polarisation doesn't work," he said.
Congress Party president Rahul Gandhi congratulated Pilot who had led from the front in the battle for the bypolls, while characterizing the result as a "rejection" of the BJP." "Well done Rajasthan Congress! Proud of each and every one of you. This is a rejection of the BJP by the people of Rajasthan," he said.
In 2014, Pilot had lost the Ajmer seat by a margin of 1,71,983 votes in the Lok Sabha election. The BJP, in fact, swept all 25 seats from Rajasthan in the parliamentary polls when the country was in the grips of the Modi wave. In the 2013 Assembly poll, the BJP won 162 seats, leaving the Congress with a mere 21.
Yashwant Deshmukh, the founder of the polling agency, C-Voter, has predicted that the Congress would win 140 seats in the upcoming polls, leaving the BJP with a mere 53. Citing trends from 17 Assembly seats, the poll pundit said that Congress would manage to swing 119 seats in its favor, while the BJP would lose 109.
Also on HuffPost India: