Rajasthan BJP in disarray as Raje staring match with Modi-Shah continues

Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje opposes BJP central leadership’s appointment of new state president; the stalemate is expected to continue till Karnataka poll results

Photo by Vishal Bhatnagar/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Photo by Vishal Bhatnagar/NurPhoto via Getty Images
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Prakash Bhandari

The ruling BJP in Rajasthan, which won 160 out of the 200 Vidhan Sabha seats in the last Assembly election four years ago, has suddenly become headless. Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, who led the party to power, eventually proved that she calls the shots in Rajasthan. She strongly opposed the nomination of Union Minister of State for Agriculture and Lok Sabha member from Jodhpur, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, as replacement for Ashok Parnami, the state BJP president who was asked to step down after the party’s debacle in the Ajmer and Alwar Lok Sabha byelections and Mandalgarh assembly bypoll.

Parnami was the choice of Vasundhara, who was singularly responsible for making him the state president. Parnami was an utter failure as president and lacked organisational skills. Out of the 33 districts in the state, he could not visit even half to strengthen the organisation there.

After the BJP lost all the three bypolls, Shekhawat, who has an RSS background, was the unanimous choice of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, party supremo Amit Shah and various general secretaries of the party. But it was Vasundhara Raje, who after meeting Shah and other leaders in Delhi, stalled the decision of the party’s high command. While it showed the party’s central leadership in poor light, Vasundhara certainly emerged as the clear winner after forcing the central leadership to change its decision.

The party’s central leadership erred in nominating Shekhawat as the state unit head without taking into consideration the caste configurations in Rajasthan. Nominating a Shekhawat, a Rajput, certainly annoyed the Jats, who are politically a stronger community than the Rajputs. Shekhawat was apparently chosen as the party got the feedback that the Rajput community has distanced itself from the BJP following the killing of noted criminal Anandpal, who was killed in a police encounter. Shekhawat is a first-time MP and has no mass following in his own Marwar region. When he was being considered, six-time Rajput MLA and former minister Devi Singh Bhati questioned his credentials. This sparked off a debate within the Rajput community as to whether Shekhawat was the right choice. The Jats as well as the Dalits also opposed Shekhawat and were in favour of Union minister Arjun Ram Meghwal as the BJP chief. Meghwal, who was projected as a future chief ministerial candidate in case Vasundhara Raje was shifted to the Centre, would have been an ideal choice, which would have been acceptable to the Jats and the Dalits. The Dalits in the state have been particularly annoyed with the BJP regime.

The BJP had admitted powerful Meena leader Dr Kirori Lal Meena into the party with a view to influence tribal voters. Rajasthan has 24 assembly seats where tribals are a majority. But having a Meena leader at the helm would not have been acceptable to other communities.

Modi-Shah shocked as Raje turns down their nominee

The party’s central leadership was stunned when Vasundhara Raje and her supporters opposed the selection of Shekhawat. It irked the party leadership and she was asked by the party’s general secretary, Ram Lal, to accept the party’s diktat. Unmoved, Vasundhara instead got the Maratha lobby in the party on board to convince RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat. She got in touch with Union Transport and Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari, who met Amit Shah to try to convince the latter. Shah, in turn, met RSS leader Bhaiyaji Joshi and conveyed to him that the Rajasthan Chief Minister was opposed to Shekhawat’s appointment. He apparently told Joshi that he would abide by the orders of the RSS before naming another person. Shah and Gadkari flew to Nagpur to speak to Mohan Bhagwat and apprised him of the situation. Bhagwat agreed on the withdrawal of Shekhawat’s name but he reportedly did not name anyone, thus keeping the RSS out of the decision-making process.

In the meantime, Vasundhara Raje pushed the name of state Urban Development Minister Srichand Kriplani, a Sindhi from Chittorgarh, who has been a two-time member of the Lok Sabha and a three-time MLA as the party chief. Since he belonged to the Sindhi community, he was acceptable to all the castes.

But the BJP leadership has apparently left it to the RSS to select a new candidate. Amit Shah is unhappy with Vasundhara questioning the authority of the party high command. But Vasundhara Raje has shown that she is a woman to reckon with in Rajasthan. Thus, even a fortnight after the resignation of Ashok Parnami, the party has not been able to nominate a successor. It has now been put on the back burner and a decision is expected only after the Karnataka Assembly election results are out in the middle of May.

Interestingly, Vasundhara Raje’s name is missing from the list of star campaigners for the Karnataka polls, while some ministers in the Union Cabinet from the state have been included in the campaigners’ list.

Political pundits see this as a sign of Amit Shah’s annoyance with Vasundhara Raje. But till the Karnataka verdict is out, it will be difficult to predict who the Rajasthan BJP baton will pass to.

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