As the BJP won the ‘prestigious’ Dholpur by-poll by a comfortable margin, the Congress accused chief minister Vasundhara Raje of misusing the state government machinery for winning the poll. BJP candidate Shobharani was declared elected with 91,548 votes, while Congress candidate Banwari Lal Sharma lost, getting only 52,875 votes. The remaining 13 candidates lost their security deposits.
Shobharani is the wife of former BSP MLA B L Kushwaha, whose conviction in a murder case necessitated the by-poll, while Sharma, a five time MLA, is chief minister Vasundhara Raje’s old rival losing to her in 1985 and winning against her in the 1995 by-polls to the assembly elections of 1993.
While accepting the people’s mandate, the Congress also acknowledged the ‘spillover effect’ from the BJP’s unprecedented win in Uttar Pradesh, which forms a boundary with Dholpur.
“We accept the verdict of the people and will work harder now for next year’s assembly elections,” Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee president Sachin Pilot told The Indian Express after the defeat.
With Shobharani consolidating her lead with each passing round of counting, the BJP office in Jaipur saw an ever swelling crowd of party workers gathering.
“Its a historic win. the people of Dholpur voted for development, discarding casteism and nepotism. Dholpur has had Congress MLAs for 50 years yet the place saw no development,” state BJP president Ashok Parnami said.
In the 2013 assembly polls, the BJP polled only 26.8 % votes, with its candidate Abdul Sagir Khan finishing third. BSP’s B L Kushwaha got 37.86%, while Congress’ B L Sharma, the runner up, polled 30.87 % votes.
However, in the by-poll, BJP made significant gains with candidate Shobharani cornering over 62 percent of the total votes. Congress’ Banwari Lal Sharma finished second with 35.9 %, improving the party’s vote share by about five percentage, but still losing the poll.
While the BJP gave credit to chief minister Vasundhara Raje’s successful leadership and governance in the state, the Congress slammed Raje for misusing government machinery.
“We did not lose to the BJP, we lost to the government of Rajasthan. The full government machine, including administration, police, all senior party ministers and even the chief minister had been camping in Dholpur. The CM was there even o the voting day,” Pilot said.
“This election was not about development or governance. Had Dholpur been developed, the BJP wouldn’t have to go with the wife of the ex-BSP MLA who’s conviction necessitated the by-poll. If development was the issue, why did they not have the confidence to field someone from their own party?”
The by-poll was a high-stakes contest, especially for the BJP and CM Raje, with the town being Raje’s home turf and the site of her political debut in 1985.
The win would also serve to cement Raje’s position as the single most powerful BJP leader in the state, providing her with some much needed elbow room with the central leadership, especially seen in the context of the Lalit Modi controversy and the frequent rumours about her being replaced as the CM.
Sources in the Congress also acknowledged a spill over effect from neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP won a landslide mandate recently.
“Dholpur, in that sense, is different from the rest of Rajasthan and more like UP. So the BJP’s success in Uttar Pradesh did have a bearing here,” said a party source, wishing to remain anonymous.
“The constant media coverage of UP since the election results has worked like a campaign for BJP. Like some voters complained that whichever button you press (on the EVM), the vote went to BJP. Similarly, whichever button one pressed on the TV remote, one would only see Yogi or Modi on TV,” quipped another senior party leader.