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Too Much, Too Soon? How the BJP in Karanpur Suffered in Its Bid to Bypass Ranks

While BJP defended making its party leader a 'minister' even before an MLA, its political morality is questionable.

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Indian democracy has witnessed many ups and downs but recent happenings have raised grave questions on its quality and future trajectory. Most political leaders believe the Indian public can be 'managed’ through calls to caste, religion, or other manipulative stratagems.

Sadly, our leaders often succeed in fooling the public and shaping the democratic system according to their whims and fancies.

On 8 January, however, the people of the Karanpur Assembly seat in Rajasthan repulsed an effort of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to manipulate their electoral choices by making one of its leaders a 'minister’ even before he had become an MLA!

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BJP’s Sudden Setback After Assembly Polls' Victory

Exactly five weeks after its victory in the Rajasthan Assembly Elections, the BJP was rudely jolted on 8 January as Surender Pal Singh TT, inducted as a minister on 30 December, lost the election for the Karanpur seat to Congress candidate Rupinder Singh Kunnar.

The demise of his father and sitting Congress MLA, Gurmeet Singh Kunnar in November had led to this election being postponed after which Rupinder was fielded. Riding a strong sympathy wave, Rupinder outshone the BJP minister and scored an impressive win by over eleven thousand votes.

The decisive defeat of its minister is a severe embarrassment for the Bhajan Lal Sharma-led government in Rajasthan. As a matter of fact, Pal’s appointment as a minister, barely a week before his election, had immediately sparked a furore.
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The Congress objected to Pal’s elevation as a minister, even as the process was on for the Karanpur election where he was a candidate, as a violation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC).

Accusing the BJP of trying to influence the poll verdict by making Pal a minister, Congress complained to the Election Commission. Dubbing it a 'dubious' move, the Congress argued that BJP’s message to the public was obvious – that if they elect Pal, they are assured of a minister as their MLA and the gains that would accrue to them from his elevation.

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BJP’s 'Questionable’ Political Morale

Terming his appointment as a breach of Clause 32 of the MCC, the Congress demanded that Pal be disqualified from contesting.

Though the EC ignored the Congress complaint, the BJP rubbished Congress' charges. BJP leaders claimed that a government job and a ministerial post are vastly different and argued that Pal’s elevation as an Minister of State (MoS) was in accordance with constitutional norms.

BJP leaders asserted that under Article 164 (4) of the Constitution, any person can hold a ministerial post for six months without being elected. As such, they argued that the oath taken by Pal did not violate the MCC as dozens of ministers have contested polls while holding ministerial berths in governments across the country.

While the BJP defended the debatable move as legally sound, its political morality was quite questionable. As many neutrals pointed out, even if Pal’s presence was essential for the BJP ministry, waiting a week for his election to be over may have been a more sensible option that would also address concerns of political propriety.
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Having won the Rajasthan polls decisively just weeks earlier, the BJP was clearly a favourite to win the Karanpur seat. But party bosses, it seems, did not wish to leave anything to chance and decided to promote Pal five days ahead of his election.

While non-legislators being made ministers is routine (on condition that they get elected within six months), for this to be extended to a candidate in the middle of an election process was rather strange and suspicious.
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Was Pal Best Suited for BJP in Karanpur?

By inducting Pal as (MoS), the BJP turned the Karanpur election into a prestige battle. The saffron brigade also threw in most of its state luminaries into the fray. Besides Chief Minister Bhajan Lal and Deputy CM Diya Kumari holding public rallies, State BJP Chief CP Joshi and his predecessor Satish Poonia also held rallies for this election. Even Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat addressed public meetings and the BJP’s organisational secretary.

Chandrashekhar camped in Karanpur for several days. After becoming minister, Pal himself was sure of a victory and stated, "The voters of Karanpur are very intelligent. I will undoubtedly win the election as via me, the BJP has also recognized the Sikh community.”

Besides the questionable political morality of the move, in promoting Pal as a minister to lure voters in Karanpur, the BJP even forgot the political history of Sri Ganganagar district which has a record of rejecting VIP political culture.

In this district adjoining Punjab, even former CM Bhairon Singh Shekhawat tasted defeat in the Assembly Polls of 1993 though he was the BJP’s declared CM face as voters had preferred a local leader! The Karanpur election now was the first political test for CM Bhajan Lal since his government’s formation and he seems to have flopped.

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The Public Response to BJP’s Hastiness

The BJP's strategy of making Pal a minister before he became an MLA has clearly been rejected by the public. Soon after his defeat, Pal put in his resignation which was accepted by the Rajasthan Governor.

Despite a comfortable win in the polls last month, by losing the final assembly seat on which it staked a lot, the BJP is now on the back foot.
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Party leaders are trying to downplay the result and claim the Congress candidate won due to a sympathy wave over his father’s death. But stunned by the defeat, BJP state chief CP Joshi admitted that “the party will review the reasons for Pal’s loss in the election.”

In sharp contrast, the Karanpur verdict is a shot in the arm for the Congress. Govind Singh Dotasra, the state Congress President asserted, “When the constitutional institutions of the country forget their responsibilities, then justice is done in the people’s court.” Congress leaders are also slamming the Bhajan Lal government as a 'parchi wali sarkaar’ that is remote-controlled by BJP bosses in Delhi.

As Dotasra remarked cattily, “In the past month, the BJP's new ‘parchi government’ kept changing the names of Congress' schemes. On the other hand, the public changed their Minister.”

Former Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot, who along with senior leader Sachin Pilot campaigned for Rupinder Singh, claims the people have taught the BJP a lesson for making a mockery of the code of conduct. In a post on X, Gehlot asserted, “People of Karanpur have defeated the arrogance of BJP. They have taught a lesson to the BJP, which flouted the code of conduct by making its candidate a minister during the elections.” Gehlot further added that "people have understood that we have not weakened even after the formation of a BJP government in the state. This will motivate us and benefit us in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.”

While the impact of the Karanpur verdict on the Lok Sabha battle is debatable, it sure has spoiled the optics for the BJP just ahead of the first session of the new Rajasthan Assembly.
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In contrast, the Congress seems full of fresh hope. This is the first time that a leader who became a minister before becoming an MLA has lost an election in Rajasthan. By remaining a minister for just 10 days, the tenure of Surender Pal Singh TT could well be a rather curious case study for students of political culture and morality in India!

The BJP Minister's defeat in Karanpur is more than just a political hiccup. It’s a reminder of the importance of public trust and the need for a politics driven by morality where electoral wins are earned through fair play and not by clever political maneuvering.

(The author is a veteran journalist and expert on Rajasthan politics. Besides serving as a Resident Editor at NDTV, he has been a Professor of Journalism at the University of Rajasthan in Jaipur. He tweets at @rajanmahan. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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