Bad news came for the BJP from both the east and the west on February 1, as results of five by-elections in Rajasthan and West Bengal were declared and the party did not win a single seat.
Rajasthan was a major boost for the Congress, with the party wresting all three constituencies – Mandalgarh Assembly seat and Ajmer and Alwar parliamentary seats – from the BJP. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress had not won a single seat in Rajasthan.
Initial trends from #Rajasthanby-polls are a mandate against the Govt, I hope our leads will increase even more. Vasundhara ji and her Govt have been totally rejected by people: Sachin Pilot,Congress pic.twitter.com/UyW82Vhfvt— ANI (@ANI) February 1, 2018
Congratulations @SachinPilot. Superb show in the three results declared today, well done. #Rajasthanby-polls— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) February 1, 2018
In West Bengal, the TMC won both the Noapara Assembly constituency and the Uluberia Lok Sabha seat.
The by-polls were necessitated after the death of BJP MPs Sanwarlal Jat from Ajmer, Mahant Chand Nath Yogi from Alwar, and MLA Kirti Kumari from Mandalgarh, and MLA Kirti Kumari from Mandalgarh in Rajasthan, and the passing away of Madhusudan Ghose of Congress in Noapara and the TMC’s Sultan Ahmed in Uluberia.
The results in Rajasthan are especially significant as the state is set to go to the polls later this year. Both chief minister Vasundhara Raje and Congress leader Sachin Pilot were campaigning hard for the by-polls, though the central leadership of the parties had stayed away.
In the recent months, Rajasthan has witnessed a strengthening of regressive and communal forces, as evident by incidents such as the ghastly Rajsamand "love jihad" killing, dairy farmer Pehlu Khan’s murder, and the Karni Sena running lawless over the movie Padmaavat.
There were speculations that chief minister Vasundhara Raje was going soft on these elements in view of the polls.
In the by-poll for Alwar – where Pehlu Khan was lynched, his murder accused acquitted and his companions recently booked for cow smuggling – the Congress’ Karan Singh Yadav defeated the BJP’s Jaswant Singh Yadav.
In Ajmer, which Sachin Pilot had lost to the BJP’s Sanwar Lal Jat in 2014, Raghu Sharma of the Congress defeated Jat’s son Ram Swaroop Lamba.
Rajputs here had declared they would not vote for the BJP; the community has been angry with the BJP over several issues – sidelining of former Union minister Jaswant Singh in the 2014 parliamentary polls, the encounter in July last year of gangster Anandpal Singh, whom the Rajputs saw as a community champion against Jats, the 2016 encounter of another gangster Chatur Singh Sodha, and the government’s failure to ban the release of Padmaavat nationwide.
In the Mandalgarh assembly seat, Congress’s Vivek Dhakad won against the BJP’s Shakti Singh Hada.
The Gurjar community, too, has been unhappy with the BJP government as its demand for reservation in jobs and education lies unfulfilled. The government had brought in a bill to provide quota to the community, but the Supreme Court ordered against it. Rajasthan had been hit by farmers’ protests too.
In West Bengal, the TMC was the clear winner, with its Sunil Singh emerging victorious in Noapara and Sajda Ahmed winning the Uluberia parliamentary seat. The death of Sajda’s husband Sultan Ahmed had necessitated the by-poll.
The BJP is fighting hard to gain a foothold in West Bengal, where Mamata still enjoys mass popularity and has emerged as a staunch critic of the central government.
While the wins will boost the TMC’s position ahead of panchayat elections in the state, they throw up a big question for the CPI(M). The BJP has emerged as the TMC’s major rival, relegating the Left Front and the Congress to the third and fourth positions respectively.
However, numbers show that had the Congress and the Left contested together, they could have at least come second in Noapara.
The result may create pressure on the CPI(M) to reconsider its recent decision of not entering into any electoral understanding with the Congress, which has been criticised for "benefitting" the BJP.