The ruling Congress clinched the Sardarshahar Assembly constituency bypoll in Rajasthan Thursday, winning the seat with a huge margin.
The Congress’s candidate Anil Kumar Sharma, 52, trounced the BJP’s Ashok Kumar by 26,696 votes. While Sharma garnered 90,915 votes, Kumar got 64,219 votes. The Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP)’s nominee Lal Chand Moond came third with 46,628 votes.
The outcome of the Sardarshahar bypoll seemed to be along expected lines, for which three major factors were said to have worked for the Congress. Firstly, Sharma’s father Bhanwarlal Sharma, the sitting Congress legislator whose demise had necessitated the bypoll, was a seven-term MLA from the seat.
Bhanwarlal was elected from Sardarshahar for the first time in 1985 on the Lok Dal ticket, then in 1990 and 1996 (Janata Dal), and again in 1998, 2003, 2013 and 2018 (Congress). He had a strong hold on the constituency due to his political flexibility and deft manoeuvrings as well as his caste.
Secondly, Bhanwarlal’s death, on October 9 following a prolonged illness, was said to have generated a sympathy vote for his son in the constituency. The Congress got the optics right too. Though Bhanwarlal was among the 2020 rebels led by Sachin Pilot, he had reconciled with Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who visited him several times when he had been ailing. Even on the night before he passed away, Gehlot visited him at the hospital ICU where he was admitted. The Congress thus put up a united face in the Sardarshahar bypoll.
Thirdly, the RLP seems to have cornered most of Jat votes – irrespective of the point that the state unit presidents of both the Congress and the BJP, Govind Singh Dotasra and Satish Poonia, belong to the Jat community. The RLP was said to have cut into the Jat votes of the BJP more than that of the Congress.
In the 2018 state Assembly polls, the Congress’ vote share in Sardarshahar was 46.31 per cent, which dipped to 43.5 per cent in the current bypoll. For the BJP, the plunge in its votes was more drastic, from 38.14 per cent to 30.7 per cent now. The RLP however increased its vote share from just 4.99 per cent in 2018 to 22.3 per cent votes this time.
“I would like to thank the voters of the region for my victory and for blessing me. Panditji (Bhanwarlal Sharma) worked for this region and represented it seven times. And CM Ashok Gehlot also worked for the people, so the public has certainly given its stamp of approval,” Anil said following his victory.
Since the formation of the Congress government in Rajasthan in 2018, there have been bypolls for nine Assembly seats so far, including Sardarshahar, out of which the party won seven seats and the BJP one with the remaining one bagged by the RLP backed by the saffron party. Of these seats, the Congress wrested three and retained four, while the BJP and the RLP retained one each.
In January 2019, the Congress’ Shafia Zubair defeated the BJP candidate in Ramgarh. This seat was earlier held by the BJP’s Gyandev Ahuja but due to the death of the BSP candidate ahead of the 2018 election the polling there had to be then rescheduled.
In the 2019 by-election, the Congress wrested Mandawa from the BJP, while the BJP-backed RLP candidate retained Khinvsar. In May 2021, the Congress retained Sahara and Sujangarh while the BJP retained Rajsamand.
In November 2021, the Congress wrested Dhariawad from the BJP, which was pushed to the third position. The Congress also retained Vallabhnagar, where the BJP nominee was relegated to the fourth position.
The Sardarshahar victory would give the Congress a shot in the arm in the run-up to the 2023 state Assembly polls. It has come at a time when Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra is passing through Rajasthan. It would also boost Gehlot himself, who has been engaged in keeping his arch party rival Pilot at bay.