Congress wrests all three Rajasthan by-poll seats from BJP

The Congress on Thursday scored emphatic wins in Rajasthan by-elections for two Lok Sabha seats and one Assembly seat, ousting the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in all three seats.

Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje (L) state Congress chief Sachin Pilot  

In West Bengal, meanwhile, the ruling Trinamool Congress took the one Lok Sabha and one Assembly seat up for by-elections, marking a complete rout for the BJP in all five seats.

The Congress first wrested the Mandalgarh Assembly seat in Rajasthan from the BJP and soon after grabbed both the Ajmer and Alwar Lok Sabha seats in the state, all by comfortable margins.

With Rajasthan heading to Assembly elections in a few months, this showing is being touted as a referendum against the BJP's rule and a precursor of things to come.

Hundreds of Congress activists set off firecrackers and danced to drums outside the party office in Jaipur as its candidate in Mandalgarh, Vivek Dhakar beat the BJP's Shakti Singh Hada by 12,976 votes.

In a clash of Yadavs, the Congress's Karan Singh Yadav won the Alwar Lok Sabha seat defeating the BJP's Jaswant Yadav by 1,56,319 votes. Raghu Sharma of the Congress won against BJP's Ram Swaroop Lamba in Ajmer.

Congress candidates led from the beginning in vote count in both the Lok Sabha seats and edged past the BJP in Mandalgarh after initially trailing.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi in a laudatory tweet said, ''Well done Rajasthan Congress!  Proud of each and every one of you. This is a rejection of the BJP by the people of Rajasthan.''

A total of 42 candidates were in the fray in the three seats, all of which were held by the BJP. There were 23 contestants in Ajmer and 11 in Alwar.

Soon after this landslide triumph, Rajasthan Congress chief Sachin Pilot demanded chief minister Vasundhara Raje's resignation on moral grounds. "Young people in this country have realised that the politics of polarisation doesn't work," he said. "The high-handedness and arrogance (of the BJP) has been rejected."

The now infamous Karni Sena joined the celebrations and was hailing the Congress victory as a rejection of Raje's governance. The Shri Rajput Karni Sena has been at loggerheads with the Rajasthan government over several issues, including the Anandpal Singh encounter and the Padmaavat movie controversy.

Congress leader and former chief minister Ashok Gehlot said the results were a precursor to the 2019 general elections. "This by-election is a vote against BJP's divisive politics." He took a dig at the state BJP government, saying apart from changing the names of Congress-era schemes, the chief minister had done nothing concrete for the people in the past four years.

TMC rules in Bengal
In a formidable showing, West Bengal's ruling Trinamool Congress wrested the Noapara Assembly seat from the Congress and retained the Uluberia Lok Sabha seat.

In the Noapara bypoll, necessitated by the death of Congress legislator Madhusudan Ghose, the TMC's Sunil Singh won with more than 63,000 votes over his nearest rival Sandip Banerjee of the BJP. Left Front-backed Communist Party of India (Marxist) candidate Gargi Chatterjee finished a close third, after running second in the initial rounds of counting.

In Uluberia, the BJP surprised everyone by taking an early lead, but eventually TMC candidate Sajda Ahmed surged ahead and registered an emphatic win by a margin of 4,74,023 votes against Anupam Mallik of the BJP, who got 2,93,046 votes.

In the 2014 general elections, Trinamool's Sultan Ahmed had defeated his closest opponent Sabiruddin Molla of the LF-backed CPI(M) by a little over two lakh votes. Sultan Ahmed's death necessitated the bypoll, with the Trinamool nominating his widow Sajda.

Molla, who is the CPM candidate this time also, was in third place, far behind Mallik. Congress candidate Goutam Bose finished a distant fourth and forfeited his deposit in Noapara, which the party won in the 2016 Assembly polls in alliance with the Left Front. In Uluberia too, Congress was in the fourth position.