Jaipur: Former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje appears to be in a rebellious mood these days. Kept out of the BJP’s affairs in Rajasthan since the party’s defeat in the December 2018 assembly elections, though given the ceremonial post of national vice-president, Raje has come up with different ways to let her displeasure known to the party brass.
In the latest instance, she has thrown her weight behind former state speaker Kailash Meghwal who dared party leaders to take action against him for defying its decision to boycott the governor’s speech in the Rajasthan assembly last week.
Meghwal, a Raje loyalist, had not joined his party colleagues when Leader of the Opposition Gulab Chand Kataria announced a walkout from the House. He only budged after several ‘slips’ were sent to him by the party leadership requesting him to come out.
The BJP had opposed the state government’s decision to call the assembly session on a short notice of four days against a mandatory 21-day notice.
Meghwal was angry that the BJP leadership did not support him when he had protested against the government’s decision to convene the inaugural assembly session at a short notice of six days.
“Meghwalji is right, the party should have supported him earlier,” Raje is learnt to have told party leaders.
The choice of the outspoken Meghwal to get back at her detractors seemed to be well thought out. Meghwal is a prominent Dalit face of the BJP.
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Party spokesperson Laxmikant Bhardwaj, however, sought to downplay the incident.
“The state president has already clarified that there was a slight misunderstanding,” Bhardwaj said. “Meghwalji was not aware of the boycott call. And, Katariaji has also agreed that on the previous occasion, the party should have opposed the assembly session on a short notice.”
Not the first instance
This is not the first time that Raje has made plain her continued annoyance with the party.
She had skipped Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s pro-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) rally at Jodhpur on 3 January. She chose to be in Haryana on that day even though Shah’s programme had been decided much in advance.
A month before that on 20 December, Raje chose to sit with party workers when the state BJP had organised a pro-CAA rally in Jaipur.
She only relented after much persuasion from state BJP chief Satish Poonia. As feared by party incharge Avinash Rai Khanna who had sent Poona to bring her to the dais, it became a talking point in the media.
Raje had also chosen not to join the rally at the starting point when all other senior leaders, including Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, had walked. She was missing from posters and banners put up across the city for this rally.
A couple of months ago, Raje had skipped Poonia’s swearing-in-ceremony as state president. She instead congratulated him through a tweet and sent a letter. Though the party denied any rift claiming that Raje was in Dholpur, but Poonia strengthened the rumours by excluding Raje’s name from the list of leaders in his thanksgiving speech.
A leader sidelined
Once a proverbial leaf did not move in state BJP without Raje’s approval, but she is finding the going difficult under the Modi-Shah rule.
She was not even consulted in Poonia’s selection as BJP president in September 2019. Poonia has strong roots in the RSS.
It’s also not just with Raje’s detractors. The party has been handing important posts to those who were part of her coterie just to raise their stature before her.
Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla was once her loyalist and parliamentary secretary. He hails from the same Hadauti region as Raje and her MP son Dushyant Singh. Prime Minister Narendra Modi surprised everyone by elevating Birla, a two-time MP, to the Speaker post.
Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat was promoted to cabinet rank in Modi 2.0. Raje had blocked his appointment as state party president despite the fact that he was backed by Modi and Shah.
Ahead of Lok Sabha elections last year, there were enough signs that all was not well between the former chief minister and the party.
Raje was rebuffed when the party went against her wishes and forged an alliance with the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party headed by Hanuman Beniwal. He is a staunch critic of Raje.
The BJP handed the Nagaur seat to Beniwal leaving Raje loyalist, former Union minister C.R. Choudhary, in the cold. The BJP has never tried to restrain Beniwal who has been constantly targeting the former CM, even making personal remarks against her. No BJP leader has spoken in her favour.
When asked about differences in the party and the former CM’s being inactive in the party programmes, particularly her absence from Amit Shah’s Jodhpur rally, state party spokesperson Laxmikant Bhardwaj said the former CM was not in the state. She was busy somewhere else, he claimed, adding she had participated in a pro-CAA rally in Jaipur.
As for her being sidelined in the party, Bhardwaj said Raje is a senior leader but the party is currently led by Satish Poonia who “takes decision collectively with Leader of Opposition Kataria and general secretary (organisation) Chandrashekhar”.
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