Rajasthan: Once suspended from the BJP, new CM Bhajan Lal Sharma ticks right boxes this time

Even after his big win in the assembly polls this year, not even his detractors within the BJP had a clue that he would be offered any key position in the new government

New Rajasthan CM Bhajan Lal Sharma (right) with Union defence minister Rajnath Singh (photo: @bajanlalsharma/X)
New Rajasthan CM Bhajan Lal Sharma (right) with Union defence minister Rajnath Singh (photo: @bajanlalsharma/X)

Prakash Bhandari

Thirty-three years after Harideo Joshi, who headed the Congress government in the state, Rajasthan has another Brahmin chief minister, this time from the BJP. Bhajan Lal Sharma is also the second chief minister from Bharatpur, the first being Jaganath Pahadia of the Congress in 1980-81. Of course, both Joshi and Pahadia were chief ministers at a time when social engineering was barely an idea, nor had the Mandal Commission’s report been implemented.

Interestingly, Bhajan Lal, a Vipra Brahmin who is a four-time general secretary of the BJP’s state unit, was suspended by the BJP in 2003 when, after being denied an election ticket by the party, he contested the elections on a ticket from the Samajik Nyay Manch from Nadbai and lost his deposit, after which he tendered an unconditional apology to the BJP.

A partner in his family business in agricultural implements and tools, Bhajan Lal lives in a three-room flat in Jaipur with wife Geeta and their two sons, both doctors. Elder son Ashish is also preparing for the civil services examination, while the younger Kunal is an MBBS.

During his 34-year political career, he took part in the Ram Janambhoomi movement in 1992, led a 'Kashmir march' of the BJP Yuva Morcha, fought and won the sarpanch election from his village Atari in Nadbai subdivision of Bharatpur district, and also served as the party's district president.

But for the assembly polls this year, he felt there was no safe seat from which he could compete in his own district, and so lobbied to ensure that he was fielded from Sanganer. When his name was duly declared as the candidate from Sanganer, the decision was vehemently opposed by locals given his status as a rank outsider to the area.

Nobody gave him a chance, and even the satta (local bookmaker) bazars forecast his defeat. But Bhajan Lal proved everyone wrong by defeating fellow Brahmin Pushpendra Bhardwaj of the Congress by over 40,000 votes. Even after the big win, however, not even his detractors within the BJP had a clue that he would be offered any key position in the new government.

“The best that we expected for Bhajan Lal ji was a post of chief whip or deputy chief whip, not even a minister of state berth. But he was destined for a bigger command and got it. It seems the party had decided to make him chief minister even before the legislators' meeting, and Rajnath Singh along with Saroj Pande and Vinod Tawde were sent with the party’s decision as observers,” said Manish Pareek, a state BJP activist.

Clearly, the party’s senior leadership was playing the social engineering card through Bhajan Lal, having nominated the Other Backward Classes (OBC) representative Mohan Yadav (Madhya Pradesh CM) and Vishnu Deo Sai (Chhattisgarh CM), a tribal, the party needed a Brahmin to preside over Rajasthan. More so since the Brahmin community, which supported the BJP in both the assembly and Lok Sabha elections were aggrieved as the BJP had never nominated a Brahmin chief minister.

“What is surprising is the central leadership ignoring Lok Sabha MP CP Joshi, who was credited for the party’s electoral success in the state, but when it came to leadership, he was totally ignored. It seems Bhajan Lal was the choice of the party’s general secretaries Chandrashekhar, Arun Singh and also BJP president JP Nadda. When and how Bhajan Lal lobbied for himself remains a secret," said political analyst Avadhesh Akodiya.

One thing was for certain: the party was hell-bent on not opting for two-time CM Vasundhara Raje, given its 15-year plan for the state, and wanted to strengthen its base for the foreseeable future.

“It seems the BJP has decided to reward all those who gave their time to promote the RSS ideologies and Hindutva. Mohan Yadav, Vishnu Deo Sai and now Bhajan Lal Sharma all served the RSS selflessly, and were rewarded,” said Raj Kumar Jain, a BJP worker.

Like Mohan Lal Khattar, the bachelor chief minister of Haryana, Bhajan Lal is another first-timer head of government. Also like Khattar, he faced opposition from local leaders who dubbed him a rank outsider. What probably went in his favour is his closeness to BJP national president Nadda, who had promised him the party’s ticket as early as three months before the elections.

The party ignored the claims of Vasundhara Raje and discounted all speculation about Union ministers Ashvini Vaishnaw, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, and Arjun Meghwal. The last named is a Union minister, a Dalit and a former IAS. 

While its social engineering appears to be successful for now, the Jat community, which has been accusing the Congress for not allowing a Jat to become chief minister despite the community's electoral loyalty to the party, has now been let down by the BJP too.

Despite a sizeable number of Jat winners, the party did not name a Jat even as the deputy chief minister, with the chair being shared by Diya Kumari, (52), the scion of the Jaipur royal family, and Prem Chand Berwa (49), a Dalit and a PhD.

Also on edge are the 6 lakh state government employees, worried about the fate of the Old Pension Scheme (OPS) which was granted by the outgoing Ashok Gehlot government. When asked what the fate of the various welfare schemes launched by the Gehlot government would be, Bhajan Lal opted for a diplomatic answer.

“All the welfare schemes, if they serve the poor and needy, will remain. We will review such schemes and if any improvement is needed, we will make it. Scrapping good schemes is not our idea, but we will retain them with a better delivery system,” he said.

During the election campaign, Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Ashok Gehlot had expressed apprehension that the schemes launched by the Congress government would be scrapped if the BJP came to power. State employees fear the OPS will be stopped by the new BJP government, which will implement the new pension scheme launched by the Modi government, but Bhajan Lal has so far been tight-lipped on the issue.

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