About 10 months ago, in April 2017, there was a spring in the step of Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje. Dholpur by-election had turned into a prestige issue and Vasundhara took it upon herself to win the seat and how. She camped and campaigned at the Dholpur Palace for several days, travelling across the constituency, overseeing the campaigning, for which almost all her retinues were pressed into service.
The party managed to secure the seat as BJP beat the Congress by a record margin of over 38,000 votes. The government tom-tommed the victory and claimed it was a reflection of people's confidence in her leadership and BJP's model of governance in the run-up to the Assembly elections in 2018.
Cut to February 2018. The result of the three by-elections, including that for Ajmer and Alwar Lok Sabha constituencies, is out. Vasundhara Raje dispensation would not have expected a worse result. It has been left cutting a sorry figure as in the final year of the government's tenure the voters in these constituencies have overwhelmingly expressed their lack of confidence in her leadership and what her dispensation has managed to achieve or rather not achieve in her four years at the helm.
The "Rani", facing flak for her domineering style of functioning, has her political career on the line like never before. Speculation about her and some of her trusted lieutenants in the government making way has been rife since the results came.
Inaccessibility, disconnect from the masses, unwillingness or inability to address the pressing issues of unemployment, lack of development, price rise, being petty-minded are some of the charges flying thick and fast against her. Murmurs of discontent against her from within the party are no longer just murmurs. They have grown louder and are likely to become shriller as Assembly elections draw nearer this year. Party leaders have been worrying about their fate if the current leadership carries on in the run-up to the polls this year.
On a day the chief minister presented the final state Budget of her current term in office, a controversial audio conversation purportedly of a party MLA from Alwar was leaked. A voice believed to be that of the MLA is heard saying he has informed the party that results will be disastrous if the current leadership is not changed.
Whether it was the Narendra Modi wave, the anti-incumbency against Ashok Gehlot government in Rajasthan and the Manmohan Singh dispensation at the Centre or general disenchantment against the Congress during 2013 Assembly elections and 2014 Lok Sabha elections, BJP's honeymoon period in Rajasthan is well and truly over. This has already set warning bells within the BJP, both at the state and central level.
Here are some humbling facts the BJP's top brass has been chewing upon during the last few days after the defeat in the by-polls:
The BJP's candidate from Ajmer constituency lost to Congress' candidate by over 84,000 votes. It is a seat the BJP had won by a margin of more than 1.70 lakh votes in 2014 Lok Sabha polls as Sachin Pilot suffered a humiliating defeat.
In Alwar, the ruling party's candidate lost by a massive margin of over 1.96 lakh votes. It is a seat the BJP had won by close to 2.84 lakh votes in 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
In Mandalgarh Assembly by-poll, the Congress candidate defeated the BJP's candidate by over 12,000 votes. This despite the fact that the Congress was in a tight spot in the constituency as a party leader decided to contest as Independent, thereby cutting into the party's votes.
On February 12, as "Rani" stood inside the Vidhan Sabha, looking at her Budget speech, one which made one promise after another, ranging from farm loan waiver to loan for 50,000 families under Bhairon Singh Shekhawat Antyoday Swarojgar Yojna, much of the old vanity surrounding her seemed to be a thing of the past. Electoral defeats can truly be the most humbling experience for a politician but whether it came too late for Vasundhara Raje or will she still be able to course correct is something only time can tell.