BJP on the back foot in Rajasthan
The resurrection of Madan Lal Saini from political oblivion is said to be due to the fact that he hails from the Mali community, a community to which Congress heavyweight Ashok Gehlot belongs
It was an open secret in BJP circles in Jaipur that the party’s national president Amit Shah wanted Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat as the president of the state unit. Shekhawat, first time MP and a RSS functionary was the first choice of the party president to replace Ashok Parnami following the party’s dismal performance in the bypolls.
But in the face of opposition from Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, the party opted for another RSS functionary and Rajya Sabha member Madan Lal Saini. His name was pushed by both Raje and BJP general secretary Om Mathur, who is also from Rajasthan and is believed to be close to both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Shekhawat, a Rajput, it was felt, would help woo the Rajputs who are annoyed with the BJP. But the Jodhpur MP faced resistance not only from Raje but also from other MLAs who questioned his relative inexperience.
Curiously, even Saini, 74, from Shekhawati region and rom an RSS background, is a one-term MLA and was on the sidelines till Raje got him nominated for the Rajya Sabha. The resurrection of Saini from political oblivion is said to be due to the fact that he hails from the Mali community, a community to which Congress heavyweight and former Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot belongs. While there is little doubt that the choice of Saini is meant to send out a message to the community that their interests would be safeguarded, is he the answer to Ashok Gehlot?
With less than six months to go for the next Assembly election, Saini has to hit the ground running. But with Saini having little popular base or support among MLAs, it will be Vasundhara Raje who will call the shots. It is also certain that Om Mathur will play a major role in distributing party tickets and keep a check on Raje
BJP’s choice of the party president is said to have been guided by the assessment that a Rajput as party chief would upset the Jat community, which is politically more powerful than the Rajputs. What is more, even among Rajputs, Shekhawat was deemed to be a greenhorn and a junior. In the last Vidhan Sabha election, the BJP secured a two-third majority and Jats had voted overwhelmingly for it.
Initially Raje offered to head the party in addition to being the Chief Minister. It would have given her control of both the government and the party. But this was not acceptable to the party, which sought to impose Shekhawat. Raje then proposed the name of her cabinet colleague and former MP Srichand Kriplani, a Sindhi, as the party president. When his name was opposed, she put forward the name of former minister Laxmi Narayan Dave, a Brahmin.
With less than six months to go for the next Assembly election, Saini has to hit the ground running. But with Saini having little popular base or support among MLAs, it will be Vasundhara Raje who will call the shots. It is also certain that Om Mathur will play a major role in distributing party tickets and keep a check on Raje.
But is it too little and too late? Following the Congress winning the bypolls for two Lok Sabha and one Vidhan Sabha seats, there was a demand within the party to replace the Chief Minister. There is little doubt that the Congress is happy to see Raje continue as CM. Her government has failed to perform and faces strong anti-incumbency. The new president of the state unit may not be ble to change the party’s fortunes. No wonder the Congress in Rajasthan under Sachin Pilot is upbeat.