NEW DELHI: Polling is underway in bye-elections to Lok Sabha and Assembly seats in Rajasthan, West Bengal and Odisha. The bypolls in Rajasthan and West Bengal are being seen as reflections on the respective state governments.
In Rajasthan, bypolls are being held to the Ajmer and Alwar Lok Sabha seats, and the Mandalgarh Assembly seat. West Bengal is seeing bypolls in the Uluberia Lok Sabha and Naopara Assembly constituencies.
Heated race in Rajasthan
The byelections in Rajasthan are being seen, in the state and elsewhere, as a measure of the Vasundhara Raje Scindia government's popularity in the state.
Campaigning reached a fever pitch on the last day as both the Rajasthan Chief Minister and Congress state unit chief sought vote for their party's candidates.
All three seats fell vacant after the death of BJP lawmakers last year, so in a sense, these elections are for the BJP to lose. The Congress has campaigned hard and will see even a win on one of the seats as a shot in the arm before state polls later this year and Lok Sabha Elections in 2019.
Rajasthan sends 29 members to the lower house of Parliament and, in 2014, Vasundhara Raje delivered all of the seats to the BJP's kitty barely six months into her term. Most of the media in the state has billed these by-polls as the semifinal before elections to the Vidhan Sabha in November.
And the Chief Minister is definitely not taking it lightly. On the last day of campaigning, she spoke of perceptions and said: "People in Rajasthan are simple, so Congress misuses them. We have to remove the misconception that Congress has of its chances (of winning )."
Almost 40 lakh voters can exercise their franchise at over 4000 voting booths set up across Rajasthan today. Coming as it does days after violent protests around the release of the film 'Padmaavat', it'll be interesting to see what impact that'll have on the outcome.
Both parties have looked hard at the caste equations in the constituencies and tried to make most of these arithmetic.
For example, in the Ajmer Lok Sabha constituency, there are about 2.5 lakh Jats, 2.5 lakh Rajputs, 1.5 lakh Brahmins, 2.75 lakh Muslims, about 2.15 lakh Gujjars and 3 lakh scheduled caste voters. The Congress has not only actively wooed the Rajputs, post is the Padmaavat controversy, but also the Gujjars who are upset at their demands for reservations not being met. In a bid to counter that, the BJP has gone all out to consolidate its Jat vote bank by fielding a Jat candidate Ramswarup Lamba, the son of Sanwar Lal Jat, whose death necessitated the by-poll.
The results of these polls will be known on February 1 - the day Finance Minister Arun Jaitley tables the Union Budget in Parliament. Going by the level of excitement and interest, people in Rajasthan may just tune in to election news on Thursday and read about what the finance minister says in the papers the next morning.