New Delhi: Assembly elections in Rajasthan are only scheduled for 2023 but the power tussle in the state BJP unit is set to intensify in the coming days.
Following the party’s dismal performance in the local body elections last month — the BJP won just 37 of the 90 municipal while the Congress took nearly 50 — the faction owing allegiance to former chief minister Vasundhara Raje has set up parallel organisational units in the district.
The Raje faction has now decided to hold a Dev Darshan Yatra from 8 March, the former CM’s birthday, as a show of strength to pressurise the party to name her as the 2023 CM candidate.
The BJP high command also will have to contend with another headache on 8 March as senior leader Uma Bharti has decided to launch a yatra on that day to ensure Prohibition in Madhya Pradesh. She has been accusing her own party Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan of indecisiveness on the issue.
A Raje rebellion
Raje had been lying low ever since the BJP high command effected a change of guard, appointing Satish Poonia as the state unit chief in September 2019 and empowering other leaders in the state such as union ministers Gajendra Singh Shekawat, Arjun Meghwal and Kailash Choudhary.
She had even kept mum during the political crisis in July last year that saw senior Congress leader Sachin Pilot rebel against Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.
Her supporters now want her to stay in the limelight. On Sunday (14 February), they held a meeting at Kota that was attended by several BJP MLAs, and decided that they would press the party high command to name her as the CM candidate.
They have decided to hold a rally in April against the Gehlot government. The rally will be led by Raje. According to Bhawani Singh Rajawat, the former BJP MLA who was the architect of the Kota meeting, only Raje has the capacity to revive the Rajasthan BJP unit.
“We have seen the result of Vasundharaji being sidelined, in the local body polls,” Rajawat said. “Only she can revive the party. We will invite Amit Shahji also for the April rally against the Gehlot government’s misgovernance but the time has come to work under Vasundharaji’s leadership.”
Another supporter of the CM said her faction will launch a Govardhan Yatra on 8 March as a show of strength. Former MLA Yunus Khan is expected to coordinate the 8 March event.
Raje wants larger say
BJP leaders ThePrint spoke to said that Raje had been biding her time and is now looking to assert herself following the local body polls.
“The real problem in the Rajasthan unit is that state president Satish Poonia is a lightweight leader but appointed by the high command,” a senior BJP leader said. “Raje does not share a cordial relationship with (Amit) Shah and the high command does not want to give her a free hand. They have sidelined Raje at every turn but the fact of matter is there is no other leader who has the face and strength to defeat Ashok Gehlot in the state.”
That Raje does not share cordial ties with the BJP high command is the party’s worst kept secret in Rajasthan, but a recent flashpoint was the state executive committee constituted earlier this month. Of the 92 members, only 14 were from the Raje camp. Even her close aides, former state president Ashok Parnami and veteran Narpat Singh Rajvi, missed out.
“She was not consulted on the Sachin Pilot episode nor on the local body polls,” said a second BJP leader. “Many of her supporters have not found a place in the state organisation and her son was not made a minister. But with the existing team, you can’t win the state assembly polls. Satish Poonia and Shekhawat are not proven faces who can take on Gehlot.”
A senior central BJP leader, however, said that Raje does not enjoy the clout of earlier times. “Raje has to understand the changed scenario. She is not in the strong position of 2012 when she threatened to quit the party if her opponent Gulab Chand Kataria did not cancel his yatra. Nor is she as powerful as in 2018 when Shah was not able to appoint Shekhawat as state BJP president.”
Uma’s prohibition yatra
Another prominent leader challenging the BJP high command is veteran Uma Bharti. She has announced a statewide campaign, which will begin on 8 March, to ban alcohol in Madhya Pradesh.
Bharti had recently taken on the government over the Uttarakhand disaster, saying that as the minister of water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation during the first term of the Modi government, she had opposed power projects on the Ganga and its major tributaries.
Sources said that her announcement of a campaign is aimed at the party high command.
“Although Uma’s relationship with Shivraj Singh is very cordial, she is annoyed with the central leadership due to her isolation and little say in state politics,” a source said. “Her attack on the state government’s liquor policy is part of that strategy.”
On 21 January, Bharti had written to BJP President J.P. Nadda to impose an alcohol ban in all party-ruled states.
She had then justified her yatra, saying that Prohibition does not lead to a loss anywhere. “The victory of the BJP in Bihar has shown that due to Prohibition, women unilaterally voted for Nitish,” she had said. “The loss of revenue can be met from elsewhere but incidents of alcohol intoxication, murders and accidents are frightening and a taint on the country and society.”