The fact that Home Minister Amit Shah recently met Raje was a marker that Delhi will be compelled to take her more seriously than it would care to.
Like B S Yediyurappa, she’s a regional chieftain who can’t be discarded at will, reports Radhika Ramaseshan.
An early sign of unrest in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) Rajasthan unit was spotted in December 2020.
The cheerleaders of Vasundhara Raje banded and floated an eponymous Samartak Manch (support front), raising a single demand: She be declared the Rajasthan chief ministerial candidate, although the state elections are only in 2023.
She’s currently a national vice-president in the BJP and holds an office traditionally regarded as ‘ornamental’, unlike the post of general secretary.
Tactically, no legislator or prominent functionary lent his/her name to the outfit for fear of drawing the high command’s instant notice.
Instead, it called itself ‘non-political’ — helmed by Vijay Bharadwaj, former president of the Rajasthan BJP’s legal cell.
Satish Poonia, state BJP president, dismissed the manch as ‘something without organisational presence or traction’, although Bharadwaj claimed he had appointed ‘office-bearers’ in 25 of the 33 districts to ‘publicise the policies and achievements’ of the erstwhile Raje government.
Ashok Parnami, Poonia’s predecessor who’s counted among Raje’s loyalists, dismissed the development, saying, “Workers get emotional and excited.”
However, since then, events started moving without a respite.
On January 24, a newly constituted core committee met Arun Singh, national general secretary and Rajasthan’s central minder, in Jaipur, although Raje and Gulabchand Kataria, the Opposition leader, were not present.
Poonia was quoted saying ‘organisational issues’ were discussed, but state BJP sources said concerns over factionalism were the context for the meeting.
On February 14, Raje votaries again assembled in Kota under the stewardship of a former legislator, Bhawani Singh Rajawat.
Of the BJP’s 71 MLAs, only Chhabra legislator Pratap Singh Singhvi showed up, although a majority of them owed their tickets to Raje.
“I am the only MLA speaking up for Vasundharaji. The rest, who were ministers and board chairpersons in her time, deserted her. But she’s a mass leader and her support base is intact,” claimed Singhvi.
Asked to explain the defeat in the 2018 elections that was ascribed to Raje’s unpopularity, mirrored in the slogan ‘Modi tujse bair nahi, Raje teri khair nahi (no issues with PM Modi, but Raje has had it)’, Singhvi answered: “The Congress was ahead of us by just 0.5 vote percentage or 200,000 votes. We lost because of internal sabotage. People are again looking at Vasundharaji to return the BJP to power.”
The Kota assemblage was occasioned by the BJP’s below-par showing in the municipal elections held in early February.
The Congress won 50 of the 90 civic bodies, while the BJP was down to 37.
Jhalawar, Raje’s political turf, was among the few places the BJP held on to.
Rajawat said: “The Congress took away our urban strongholds, including Kota, which we had never lost earlier.”
On February 8, Rajawat, Singhvi, and other ex-MLAs shot off a statement that blamed the Rajasthan BJP chief for the defeat.
It said: “The state organisation, controlled by a particular individual, decimated the impregnable bastions of the BJP. If the situation continues, no force can save the party’s boat from sinking.”
It held Poonia culpable for giving tickets to those allegedly without a base.
Raje’s followers lined up programmes to step up their demand for her projection as chief ministerial face.
On her birthday on March 8, they will start a ‘Govardhan yatra’.
Though she has kept a low profile so far, and spends her time in Delhi or Dholpur at the family home, Rajawat said she’s been persuaded to be present at Jaipur and interact with BJP workers.
In April, a public rally is slated to be held in Kota.
“This will be the real test of the high command’s stand on Vasundharaji. We are inviting Amit Shah (Union home minister), Arun Singh, and Poonia,” said Rajawat.
A major provocation for the defiance showed by the Raje faction was the feeling that she was out of the loop when the state party apparatuses were remade.
Of the 92 members in the Rajasthan BJP executive committee, only 14 Raje adherents were inducted.
Parnami and veteran Narpat Singh Rajvi, a long-time political associate of the former CM, were excluded.
Rajvi said: “The others say every new president has the prerogative to make his team. There’s nothing like an individual’s team.
“We are all in the party. But we were not spoken to, not a single decision is conveyed to us.”
Out of power, the BJP organisation is the centre of gravity.
Why the urgency to clinch Raje’s leadership? A Jaipur-based political observer explained: “If she is not projected this time, her political career is over. The Congress government is mid-way through the five-year tenure.
“Raje’s people feel as time passes, the high command will put off a decision. It has to be pressurised now. Her mother (Vijaya Raje Scindia) was a source of great strength to the family because she was a Jana Sangh and BJP founder, who was highly regarded by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani. The present high command doesn’t care for legacy issues.”
Although the BJP has not nurtured a second-line leadership in Rajasthan, the indications were the bosses were looking at central ministers Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, Arjun Meghwal, and Kailash Chaudhary as alternatives to Raje.
Poonia was sanguine about an early resolution.
“The central leadership is aware of everything and will decide who, what and when. The state unit is not concerned.”
However, he ruled out taking disciplinary action against Raje’s backers.
The fact that Shah recently met Raje was a marker that Delhi will be compelled to take her more seriously than it would care to.
Like B S Yediyurappa, she’s a regional chieftain who can’t be discarded at will.
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