Congress in a strong position in Rajasthan for 2024 polls even as BJP leaders engage in turf wars

BJP is not keen to project Vasundhara Raje as the party’s CM face again, and there are too many leaders in the state aspiring for that position, leading to in-house squabbles

Vasundhara Raje (Photo by Himanshu Vyas/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Vasundhara Raje (Photo by Himanshu Vyas/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Prakash Bhandari

The BJP in Rajasthan is clearly a divided house and all is not well with the party. Former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, who is the national vice president of the party, is being ignored by the party’s central leadership. She is striving hard to assert her supremacy in the party after the Satish Punia-led state unit began to continuously sideline her.

Vasundhara Raje now plans to use the forthcoming Panchayat election in the state to try and prove that she is the most popular leader of the saffron party. She has announced that she would go all out to campaign for the party in the Panchayat election all on her own.

It was in June this year when the party removed her photograph from the posters displayed in the party’s state headquarters. This was a clear hint by her detractors that the party does not want to project her anymore as a leader of any significance.

This irked Raje’s supporters, who feel that the state unit was deliberately trying to run her down. It's no secret that she enjoys the support of 54 out of the 71 party MLAs in a House of 200 in the Rajasthan Assembly. With this support base, Raje is trying to prove that she is still a force to reckon with.

Satish Punia was made the president of the party’s Rajasthan unit two years ago without consulting Raje as the party wanted to give the reins to a Jat leader. The Jats, basically an agriculturist community, are politically very powerful in state politics.

Ever since Punia was made the BJP president in the state, a number of leaders began staking their claims to be projected as the party’s Chief Ministerial candidates in the future.

Gulab Chand Kataria, the leader of the opposition, who was earlier the BJP’s state president and served as a Cabinet minister when the party was in power, has the best credentials after Vasundhara Raje. But being 76 years old, he is being ruled out from contention as a Chief Ministerial candidate.

Other aspirants include Rajya Sabha MP Om Prakash Mathur, who has an RSS background; Rajendra Singh Rathor, a seven-time MLA, who served as a minster under both Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and Vasundhara Raje; Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat; Union minister Arjun Meghwal and another Union minister Bhupendra Yadav.

Gajendra Singh Shekhawat is close to the Union Home Minister Amit Shah and he was once almost tipped to become the party’s state unit president when the BJP was in power in 2017 in the state, but his crowning was stalled by Vasundhara Raje. Ever since then, Raje and Amit Shah have been at loggerheads.

Raje was also bitter with the central leadership as her son, Dushyant Singh, a three-time MP from Jhalawar, was not made a Union minister, while a much junior Bhupendra Yadav got a berth.

Yadav was groomed by Raje and was sent to the Rajya Sabha from Rajasthan. He is basically from Haryana and studied in Ajmer and is being groomed as a leader of the Yadav community. Meghwal, a retired IAS officer, is from the scheduled caste community and was elected from Bikaner.

Punia comes from Churu district and was elected as MLA from Amer, a suburb of Jaipur, but he is not much accepted as a Jat leader within the community. But he is ambitious and is backed by some central leaders as an alternative to Vasundhara Raje.

What is puzzling is the lack of clarity in the minds of the BJP’s central leadership. Initially, the central leadership tried to groom Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat with a double-edged intention. Since he comes from Jodhpur, the BJP tried to project him against Ashok Gehlot and when he defeated Gehlot’s son Vaibhav Gehlot in the last Lok Sabha elections, he thought he would become the first choice of the BJP central leadership as the party’s CM face, but nothing of the sort happened.

Meanwhile, the elevation of Bhupendra Yadav as a Union minister suddenly saw a change in stance and he was sent to the state on a three-day mass contact mission. Yadav clearly said that he is not an aspirant for the Chief Ministership. He surprised the party’s cadre by issuing a statement that the next Assembly election would be fought under the leadership of Vasundhara Raje.

While the party’s central leadership is not keen to project Vasundhara Raje as the party’s CM face again, the party is not sure whether it would be able to find a person who could help the party in achieving electoral success in 2024 Vidhan Sabha election.

The task before the BJP is tough as the Ashok Gehlot government is being hailed for its handling of the pandemic and has gained in popularity in recent months, so much so that the party cadre feel that if the current tempo is carried with good governance, the party would come back to power as the BJP is in a mess with too many ambitious leaders which has weakened its organizational structure.

Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla surprised everyone with his elevation. But in Rajasthan’s saffron politics, Birla remains insignificant and his influence is confined to Kota and Bundi, his Lok Sabha constituency. He has no following beyond his constituency.

He comes from the Hadauti region which is the home turf of Vasundhara Raje. Birla comes from the Bania community and is accepted by all. He may prove to be a dark horse and it would be no surprise if he is projected as the next Chief Ministerial candidate by the BJP.

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