Scene after 1998 polls
The Congress dealt a stunning blow to Bhairon Singh Shekhawat's BJP Government in the desert state of Rajasthan in 1998 elections when it won 150 of the 197 seats for which elections were held, which is a record. Elections in three constituencies were postponed). Congress' previous best score was 145 seats in 1972. The BJP was left way behind, with just 33 seats against its 1993 tally of 95.
The Congress(I) Legislature Party elected State party president Ashok Gehlot to be the Chief Minister. Although he was tipped for the post even as the results were announced, there were several contenders for the chief ministership. Gehlot, at 47, was the youngest Chief Minister Rajasthan has had. A five-time Member of Parliament from Jodhpur, he took over as the Pradesh Congress Committee president in 1985.
Janata Dal, which won six seats in 1993 elections, retained only three. Communist Party of India (Marxist) retained the Dhod seat in Sikar district. But the other Assembly constituencies that constitute this Lok Sabha constituency went to the Congress(I).
The Bahujan Samaj Party made a modest entry into 11th Assembly in the State with two seats - one each in Alwar and Bharatpur districts. The Rashtriya Janata Dal also opened its account by winning one seat in Alwar district. Former Union Minister Buta Singh's Rajasthan Vikas Party, which fielded candidates in Jalore district, had drawn a blank.
Notably, the independents won only seven seats this time compared to the 1993 figure of 21 independents. Their conspicuous presence in the last Assembly elections had "helped" BJP form the government. BJP's electoral adjustment with Om Prakash Chautala's Indian National Lok Dal in six seats failed to fetch any tangible gains.
The swing in voter support in favour of Congress(I) since 1993 Assembly elections, particularly after the February 1998 Lok Sabha elections, exceeded the level predicted by the exit poll conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). The exit poll predicted 116 seats for the Congress(I), 61 for the BJP and 20 for other parties. Similarly, the Congress(I) vote share would now go beyond the 49 per cent predicted and the BJP's share is likely to plunge below 34 per cent, given the huge margins by which the Congress(I) candidates have won. (At the time of writing, the detailed figures were not available.)
The Janata Dal, whose vote share was seven per cent in 1993, would have secured only 2 per cent of the vote share this time as predicted. There was no considerable difference between the voteshares of the Congress and BJP in 1993: the Congress(I) secured slightly less than 39 per cent of the vote while the BJP performed fractionally better. However, in the 1998 Lok Sabha polls the Congress secured 45 per cent of the vote and led in 123 Assembly segments, while the BJP' vote share fell to a little over 41 per cent and the party led in only 56 Assembly segments.
A seat-wise analysis showed that Congress has retained 52 seats, lost 19 and wrested 98 from the BJP. (The party won 76 seats in 1993.) The BJP was not able to maintain the lead it had in 56 Assembly segments in the February Lok Sabha elections. The Congress improved its performance in 131 constituencies and emerged victorious in 150 of them. The swing in favour of Congress since the February polls had been more than 11 per cent, although the party itself expected that it would be around 6 per cent.
The voter turnout was exceptionally high in Rajasthan. While the average was around 63.35 per cent, the highest ever, some constituencies recorded more than 70 per cent. The highest percentage of polling was reported in the Karanpur constituency in Sriganganagar district, followed by the Nimbahera segment in Chittorgarh district. Repolling was ordered in 44 booths, the majority of them in Jaipur, but there were hardly any reports of violence.
BJP's defeat was so complete that the majority of its senior leaders (a notable exception is Bhairon Singh Shekhawat) were trounced by Congress candidates. It lost its Assembly segments in Jaipur district, considered to be a citadel of the party, in a wave of revulsion caused by the anti-people policies of the Shekhawat Government and the AB Vajpayee Government at the Centre. Deputy Chief Minister Hari Shankar Bhabhra lost by 377 votes; five-time legislator and until now Education and Public Works Minister Lalit Kishore Chaturvedi was defeated in Kota, a traditional BJP seat, by an "outsider", Shanti Dhariwal, by a margin of 24,718 votes. Speaker Samrath Lal Meena was defeated in Alwar by 25,906 votes. Home Minister Kailash Meghwal (whose victory was never in doubt until the results were announced) lost the Shahpura seat by 5,102 votes. Kalicharan Sarraf, Law Minister, lost the Johri Bazaar segment in Jaipur to a Congress(I) lightweight by 3,113 votes. And Ghanshyam Tiwari, until now Energy Minister, was defeated probably by the highest margin recorded in the State - 43,674 votes.
Other BJP losers include Deputy Speaker Tara Bhandari (Sirohi), Minister for Khadi and Rural Development Shri Krishna Sonagra, and four-time legislator and Minister for Sanskrit Education Ujjala Arora. Out of the 15 seats in Jaipur district, which is mainly urban save one seat, Congress won 12 and the BJP three. In 1993 the situation was exactly the reverse. (BJP Minister Bhanwarilal Sharma retained the Hawa Mahal seat for the sixth time, although his victory margin has come down to 7,089 votes from 27,828 in 1993.)
Prominent BJP winners included Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat from the Bali segment in Pali district (for a record 10th time), Gulabchand Kataria from Badi Sadari in Chittorgarh and VP Singh from Asind in Bhilwara.
The Congress bigwigs who won included former Chief Minister Shiv Charan Mathur from Mandalgarh, former Union Minister Nawal Kishore Sharma from Jaipur Rural, until now Leader of the Opposition Parasram Maderna from Bhopalgarh and former Ministers Kamala Beniwal, Khet Singh Rathore and Chandramal Vaid.
The region-wise gains and losses of the two main contenders show that in the 18 constituencies in the Hadothi region, which is considered to be a BJP stronghold, Congress won 14 seats and the BJP four, of which three fall in Jhalawar district. (Jhalawar is the Lok Sabha constituency of Minister of State for External Affairs Vasundhararaje Scindia.) In 1993, Congress won five seats and the BJP 12. One seat went to an independent candidate. In Ajmer division, which has 27 seats, Congress won 20 seats; the BJP suffered a major setback by winning just five, compared to the 1993 figures of 12 and 13 respectively. In the Alwar region, where both the parties fared well in 1993, the BJP won only two seats compared to the Congress' seven.
In 22 constituencies in northern Rajasthan, which fall in the Bikaner division, the Congress won 17 seats compared to BJP's four (in 1993 it was eight and 10 respectively). In Marwar (western Rajasthan), the Congress romped home in 24 of the 32 seats and the BJP was left with only eight. Mewar, covering areas such as Udaipur, Dungarpur and Banswara, delivered the worst verdict for the BJP: the party which had 30 seats until now, won only three. On the other hand the Congress doubled its tally to 22 from the 11 it won in 1993.
Price rise, the virtual non-performance of BJP Government on various fronts including law and order, the decline in industrial and agricultural growth, unemployment, increasing atrocities on Dalits and women and allegations of corruption against the Shekhawat administration were the issues that dominated the run-up to the elections. The agricultural sector was plagued by unseasonal rain and floods (no compensation was given to the victims) and acute shortages of power and water.
And with prices spiralling in the past few months, the voter needed no more reason to give the final push to the Shekhawat Government. The people had already sounded a warning in the February elections, when the BJP won only five of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in the State.