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BJP stuns Congress in Rajasthan

By Kamla Bora in Jaipur
December 15, 2002 13:20 IST
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The Bharatiya Janata Party stunned Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot's Congress government in Rajasthan by <A HREF="15raj1.htm" target=new>winning</A> all three by-elections to the state assembly.

The BJP not only retained the Bali seat, which fell vacant after its leader Bhairon Singh Shekhawat was elected India's vice-president, but also wrested Sagwara from the Congress and Bansur from the Bahujan Samaj Party.

The BJP won the Bali and Sagwara seats by large margins of over 13,000 votes. The Congress posed some resistance  in Bansur, where it restricted the BJP's winning margin to 2,000 votes.

The Congress suffered its worst defeat in Sagwara, reserved for scheduled tribe candidates, in southern Rajasthan near the Gujarat border. The seat, which the Congress has won regularly, went the saffron way with the RSS and its affiliates active in the tribal area after the Godhra incident in neighbouring Gujarat. The saffron wave was so strong that  Congress candidate Surendra Kumar failed to take advantage of the sympathy factor generated by his father Bhikha Bhai's death which caused the by-election.

In Bali, the Congress also faced problems from party rebel Meetha Lal Jain, a former member of the Lok Sabha who entered the poll fray as an Independent candidate.

Playing the caste card by fielding a Gurjar, Sardara Ram, did help the Congress in Bansur either.

The BJP, which won just 33 seats of the state's 200 assembly seats in the 1998 election, has gained some critical momentum before next year's poll, mainly due to popular disenchantment with the Gehlot government.

Many analysts blame Gehlot for the state of affairs. The chief minister, they say, has concentrated all power with himself. Although he does not hold any portfolio, his detractors say his writ runs across all departments making ministers mere puppets.

The by-election results will make Gehlot's position shaky for the first time after the 1998 assembly election. It will now be more difficult for the chief minister to control his detractors in the Congress by political maneuvering.

The results will also boost the leadership of Union Minister of State for Small Scale Industries Vasundhara Raje, the BJP's new state president. Her supporters can now brush aside the opposition from senior state BJP leaders who resent her style of functioning.

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Kamla Bora in Jaipur