Celebrations begin as Congress races ahead in Rajasthan assembly elections

Counting of votes began at 8 am today for the Rajasthan assembly elections with trends at 10 am showing the Congress racing ahead with leads in 99 seats and the BJP in 75.

As trends started trickling in, celebrations broke out in Jaipur outside the houses of Pradesh Congress Committe chief Sachin Pilot and former chief minister Ashok Gehlot as caretaker chief minister Vasundhara Raje prayed at Tripur Sundari temple in Banswara.

Initial counting showed Raje leading from Jhalrapatan, Sachin Pilot from Tonk and senior Congress leader and former chief minister Ashok Gehlot from Sardarpura.

Among those trailing were Leader of opposition in the assembly Rameshwar Dudi from Nokha, ministers Kalicharan Saraf, Arun Chaturvedi and Prabhulal Saini from Malviya Nagar, Civil Lines and Anta constituencies respectively.

The voting was held on December 7, the last day of polling in a round of state elections billed as a semi final before next year’s Lok Sabha polls.

The BJP is fighting to keep the state it wrested from the Congress five years ago. Exit polls have predicted a win for the Congress In the swing state which has not voted the same party to power in the last 25 years.

Rajasthan has 200 assembly seats, but voting was held in only 199 as the BSP candidate for the Ramgarh seat died and election was postponed there.

A party needs 101 seats today to form government and the BJP says it is confident of a return to power.

In 2013, the BJP won 163 seats with 45.17% vote share — its highest ever poll victory. In contrast, the Congress won 21 seats with 33.07% vote share.Yet, a curious trend has emerged in the state in the past 20 years, where neither the BJP nor the Congress has come to power for a consecutive term.

On Monday, senior Congress leaders reached Rajasthan to monitor results. Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot are in the state.

“We are all prepared to celebrate on Tuesday and have ordered sweets, fireworks and gulal (colours),” a leader said. In case of a victory, the party will hold a meeting of its winning legislators on Wednesday.

The BJP has called a meeting of its core committee members, including chief minister Vasundhara Raje, on Tuesday evening after the results are announced, party leaders said.

“On the basis of feedback from our workers, we are confident of forming the government again,” BJP state president Madan Lal Saini said.

Since 1998, the BJP and Congress have alternately formed the state government. While the last four Assembly elections witnessed a fight between Raje and Gehlot, this time around Pilot was in the fray, too. After being appointed as state Congress chief in 2014, the two-time Lok Sabha MP who contested his first assembly seat this year, steered the party to several bypoll wins.

This included two Lok Sabha seats of Ajmer and Alwar in February 2018, four zila parishad seats in 2017 and three out of four assembly seats in 2014, shortly after the general election which saw the BJP come to power at the centre.

The three by-elections in Rajasthan earlier this year — for two Lok Sabha seats and one assembly seat — served a wake-up call for the Raje government, which lost all seats.

Tuesday’s outcome will further determine whether Raje has tided over a strong anti-incumbency wave. Raje, who faced criticism from within and outside her party for being inaccessible, told Hindustan Times, “Which leader goes to people’s doorstep with her achievements?”

Starting September, BJP national president Amit Shah held booth level meetings of party workers in all seven divisions of the state. In August, Raje set off on a 32-day long Gaurav Yatra that traversed 123 assembly constituencies, covering 4,497-km. Party workers also got in touch with beneficiaries of the state and centre welfare schemes.

The BJP had made much of the fact that the Congress had not declared a CM candidate in these elections. “There are six contenders for the CM’s post in Congress which is like Kaun Banega Crorepati,” Raje had said during her campaign.

The high decibel campaigns saw top party leaders hold rallies in Rajasthan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed 12 public meetings in six days, covering 12 districts and 106 assembly constituencies. Raje addressed 75 meetings in 15 days of campaigning, the maximum by any BJP leader.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi addressed 11 rallies in three days, covering 10 districts and 68 assembly seats. He attacked the BJP-led centre on the Rafale deal and crony capitalism, even as Modi referred to Gandhi as a ‘naamdar’ (dynast) in all his speeches.

Rebels posed a challenge for both parties. The BJP dropped 51 of its MLAs, including four ministers. Many contested as independents. In Congress, too, 90 candidates who contested the 2013 election were dropped, which included two sitting MLAs.

Pilot, who had undertaken a 100-km march in Raje’s home turf of Jhalawar last year, and led several protests against the government across the state, contested from Tonk, where the Congress has fielded a Muslim candidate for the last 46 years.

The BJP changed its candidate following this announcement fielding Yunus Khan. In Raje’s home turf, Jhalrapatan, a constituency she has held since 2003, the Congress fielded Rajput strongman and former BJP MLA Manvendra Singh, whose exit from the BJP was widely touted to be a result of friction with Raje.