Rajasthan BJP plans strict action against members ‘publicising infighting’ as Raje row grows

'Issue was on top of the agenda' for Rajasthan BJP chief Satish Poonia when he visited Delhi for a meeting with party president J.P. Nadda and state in-charge Arun Singh.

File image of former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje | ANI
File image of former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje | ANI

New Delhi: The Rajasthan BJP is planning to initiate strict action against party members bringing out issues of infighting in public and “indulging in anti-party activities”, with an aim to “rein them in”, ThePrint has learnt. 

According to a senior BJP leader, the issue was on top of Rajasthan BJP chief Satish Poonia’s agenda when he visited Delhi last week for a meeting with central leaders, including party president J.P. Nadda and Rajasthan in-charge Arun Singh. 

His visit came in the wake of the state BJP unit serving a notice on Rohitashva Kumar Sharma, a former Rajasthan minister considered close to former chief minister Vasundhara Raje, who has been raising questions about the party’s functioning in the state. 

Sharma has criticised central BJP leaders from the state for allegedly not visiting his district as it underwent a crisis during Covid, and accused the Rajasthan BJP unit of doing armchair politics. He blamed their functioning for the party’s loss in two assembly bypolls earlier this year, and said no state leader could match Raje in stature. In an interview to ThePrint, Sharma defended his statements, but added that they were made in a proper forum and found their way into public domain after the audio of the meeting in question was “leaked”.

Soon after the notice, served last month, a letter written by Poonia criticising the state BJP unit 22 years ago — to the then party president Gulab Chand Kataria in 1999 — went viral. 

BJP leaders who spoke to ThePrint on the condition of anonymity alleged certain party members were committing “anti-party activities” at the instance of “senior leaders”. They claimed some BJP members worked against the party in the bypolls.

“In the bypolls held earlier this year, we found that a few BJP leaders indulged in anti-party activities. At the same time, it was felt that the anti-party activities are being carried out at the behest of senior BJP leaders and it is important to set an example by taking action against them,” said a senior BJP leader. 

However, the leader added, these leaders include “former MPs, MLAs and a current MLA”, and a green signal from the central leadership was required before taking any action. 

Said a second leader, “The state unit has kept an eye on all those who have been indulging in such activities. The fact that no action has been taken against the leaders only seems to embolden them. Satish Poonia met the senior leaders and apprised them of the current situation and to take the view of the central leadership before taking any action.” 

Reached for comment, Poonia was guarded in his response, saying he met the central leadership to discuss “organisational issues”. “The central leadership had not called me. I came to Delhi to discuss organisational issues with the central leadership. I apprised them of the political situation in the state and how the Gehlot government has been faltering on all aspects,” he said. 

Last month, BJP Rajasthan in-charge Arun Singh had warned party leaders that strict action would be taken against those trying to put the BJP in a tight spot.

“It’s enough. I have told the state leadership to prepare a list of such leaders. We will convince them and if they still don’t fall in line, the party will take action against them,” he added, speaking to the media after the party’s state executive council meeting on 23 June.

Also Read: Rajasthan BJP future bleak if it ‘kills state leaders’: Raje aide who got notice for dissent

Widening rift

The results to the three assembly bypolls — Sahada, Sujangadh, Rajsamand — were announced on 2 May. While the Congress won the first two, the BJP got the third. Both the parties had retained the seats in the bypolls, which were necessitated by the death of incumbent candidates.

A third BJP leader said the party “could have done better but certain inputs indicated that our own leaders played a crucial role in the BJP’s defeat”. 

“It is important to take action at this juncture on indiscipline and anti-party activities. Some of these leaders belong to the Raje camp and, hence, before taking any decision, the state unit wants to seek the view of the central leadership,” added the leader. 

The rift in the Rajasthan BJP predates the 2018 assembly elections — which the party lost — with Raje, seen as close to veteran BJP leader L.K. Advani, sharing an uneasy relationship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former party president Amit Shah. 

As chief minister until 2018, she brooked no interference from the central leadership in state affairs. However, she was sidelined after the 2018 assembly polls.

Over the past few months, many in the state unit have been claiming that Raje, also a party vice-president, is trying to run a ‘parallel system’ — including Covid welfare initiatives — with the focus only on her and not the party.

Raje herself has stopped attending most of the party’s meetings and has not been participating in activities organised by the state unit of the party either. In January, her supporters formed the ‘Vasundhara Raje Samarthak Manch Rajasthan’, and demanded that Raje be declared the party’s chief ministerial face for the 2023 elections.

(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)

Also Read: Why BJP failed to power through Rajasthan political crisis the way it did in Madhya Pradesh