- Only half the state voted for local bodies in districts and villages
- The BJP is already posting victory reactions
- The Congress had recently performed well in urban local body polls
Rajasthan’s ruling Congress, fresh out of a revolt that almost brought down its government, is headed for a big blow in local polls, with the party losing in 21 of the state’s 33 districts in results that are still coming in.
Only half the state, covered by 21 districts, voted in Panchayat Samiti and Zila Parishad polls held for local bodies in districts and villages in four rounds in November-end and early December.
For Zila Parishads, or district-level boards, the BJP is leading in 13 of 21. In Panchayat Samitis or block-level boards in villages, the BJP has gained an edge in 93 of the 222 seats where voting took place. The Congress is leading in 81.
The BJP is already posting victory reactions. “We are grateful for the way rural voters, farmers and women have reposed their faith in us in Rajasthan’s Panchayati Raj and Zila Parishad polls. This victory is a sign of the faith that villages, poor, farmers and labourers have on Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” tweeted BJP president JP Nadda in Hindi.
The local polls also indicate the emergence of new parties like former BJP leader Hanuman Beniwal’s Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP), which is a BJP ally. He is set to be the kingmaker in his area of influence, Nagaur. Another smaller player, the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP), is winning in Dungarpur, beating both giants, BJP and Congress.
The Congress had recently performed well in urban local body polls, electing its mayor in four out of six municipal corporations. But the erosion of support in rural areas, especially a tribal stronghold like Dungarpur, should be worrying for the party that came to power in the state in 2018.
Party seniors concede that the raging feud between Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot, who rebelled against him, is barely under the lid and is chipping away at the Congress’s dominance in Rajasthan.
Sachin Pilot was Congress president for over five years in Rajasthan. With his replacement, there is a distinct power vacuum in the Congress’s organisational structure and it has affected the party’s performance in the rural polls, leaders say.
To keep the balance of power in his cabinet, Chief Minister Gehlot has also not made political appointments, a signal that has not gone down well with the party cadre in Rajasthan.
The Congress has also lost out in regions dominated by its stalwarts, like new Rajasthan chief Govind Singh Dotasara in Sikar, state Health Minister Raghu Sharma in Ajmer (the BJP has won nine of 11 blocks) and state Sports Minister Ashok Chandana in Hindoli (BJP has won 13 of 23 blocks).
The setback in rural Rajasthan is a sign that the party is sliding in its traditional bases. Besides the infighting, the Gehlot government’s decisions like raising electricity tariffs seems to have led to more disenchantment.
The BJP, on the other hand, has made gains at a time one of its towering Rajasthan leaders, former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, seems to have taken a back seat.
Vasundhara Raje congratulated the winning BJP candidates. “Heartiest congratulations to all the hard-working candidates of the BJP who won the Zila Parishad and Panchayati Samiti elections. Heartfelt thanks also to the people of the state, who have reposed faith in the BJP by denying the false claims of the Congress government,” Ms Raje said in a statement.
Polls to elect 636 Zila Parishad members and 4,371 Panchayat Samiti members were held in the districts of Ajmer, Banswara, Barmer, Bhilwara, Bikaner, Bundi, Chittorgarh, Churu, Dungarpur, Hanumangarh, Jaisalmer, Jalore, Jhalawar, Jhunjhunu, Nagaur, Pali, Pratapgarh, Rajsamand, Sikar, Tonk and Udaipur.