New Delhi: There are still two years left for assembly elections in Rajasthan, but jockeying for who will be the BJP’s chief ministerial face has already begun.
Breaking her long-term silence, former chief minister Vasundhara Raje said last week in Jodhpur that no one can become CM only through wishing for it.
“To become a CM a person should also enlist the support of chhatis qaum (36 castes),” she said.
Just two days after her statement, BJP’s Rajasthan unit president Satish Poonia Monday claimed to have attained the blessings of these chhatis qaum at his birthday party, which he turned into a mega show of strength.
The Rajasthan BJP’s official Twitter handle also posted a tweet of the celebrations Monday, with an accompanying caption that said Poonia was “indebted to all for the immense blessings he had received from the BJP family and 36 communities from every corner of Rajasthan”.
भाजपा परिवार और राजस्थान के कोने कोने से आए 36 कौम से मिले अपार आशीर्वाद के लिए मैं सभी का ऋणी हो गया; मैं सबको कृतज्ञ प्रणाम करता हूँ कोटि कोटि आभार व्यक्त करता हूँ: प्रदेश अध्यक्ष श्री @DrSatishPoonia#Rajasthan pic.twitter.com/dMvJx0smJJ
— BJP Rajasthan (@BJP4Rajasthan) October 25, 2021
BJP insiders say that by assembling thousands of people, Poonia might have tried to establish himself as an alternative to Vasundhara, but right now, there is a long list of claimants in the party to be CM face.
The insiders added that apart from Raje, there are Union ministers Gajendra Shekhawat and Bhupender Yadav, along with senior leader Rajendra Singh Rathore.
According to several party leaders, however, there is a greater possibility that the upcoming elections might be contested under “collective leadership”.
The Raje-Poonia tussle
The sudden clamour for the leadership comes amid a tussle between Raje and Poonia over supremacy in the state BJP.
Last week, when Raje visited Jodhpur to pay her tributes to Gajendra Singh Shekhawat’s recently deceased mother, she broke her silence and responded to questions that had been raised for several months on the leadership issue.
“All this does not happen due to one’s own wishes. What matters is what the public wants. And one more thing should be kept in mind, that in future, only that person will rule who gets love and blessings of chhatis qaum,” she reportedly said, adding that party workers should start mobilising for the 2023 assembly and 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Poonia’s birthday bash is being seen as a riposte to Raje’s remarks. According to Poonia supporters, as many as 50 MLAs, 30 former MLAs and eight sitting MPs were present on the occasion as his supporters raised “Abki baar, Poonia sarkar” slogans.
The two leaders differ vastly.
Poonia, who is the current president of the Rajasthan BJP, is a Jat by caste and is almost 10 years younger than Raje. He, however, does not enjoy the same kind of hold and support across the entire state as she does.
Raje has been contesting elections claiming that she represents all 36 prominent caste groups in the state. Her claim is that she is daughter of a Rajput family, daughter-in-law of Jats and samdhan of Gujjars (her son’s wife is from that community).
“The main issue is who can bring the BJP to power in the state. Moreover, the assembly elections will come just a few months before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Now it is for the party high command to decide as to whether anyone among the rest of the leaders can defeat Ashok Gehlot in the Vidhan Sabha as well as Lok Sabha elections,” a former minister belonging to the Raje camp told ThePrint.
“Some of these other leaders will be hard-pressed to save their own seats. So the party high command has to decide as to whether they can deliver victory across the state or not,” the former minister said.
Responding to this, Poonia told ThePrint: “It is up to the BJP high command and the parliamentary board to decide whose leadership the election will be contested under, or if it should be collective leadership. Our job is to ensure the BJP’s victory in the state. The rest is for the high command to decide who should be made the chief minister.”
He added: “Anyway, there is still a lot of time to decide on this point. We had expected that only a few people would come for my birthday celebration but thousands of people gathered to congratulate me.”
A simmering feud
The tussle between Poonia and Raje’s supporters has been going on for the last two years.
Not only did Poonia not accommodate several of Raje’s supporters in his team, he rubbed salt in her wounds by including her arch-enemy Madan Dilawar.
On top of this, one of Raje’s supporters and former minister Rohitash Sharma was also ousted from the party last month. The situation deteriorated to such an extent that during the assembly session in September, one of Raje’s supporters, Kailash Meghwal, had threatened to bring a censure motion against fellow BJP leader Gulab Chand Kataria, the leader of the opposition in the state assembly.
Before that, 20 MLAs supporting Raje had written a letter to the high command alleging constant neglect of those backing her in the assembly.
In the end, BJP in-charge for Rajasthan, Arun Singh, had to dissuade Meghwal from going ahead with his plans. Then in January, an outfit called ‘Vasundhara Raje Samarthak Manch’ was established across the state by Raje supporters, further highlighting the rift within.
Not the only contenders
Raje and Poonia are not the only key contenders to be the CM face.
Union Water Resources Minister Gajendra Shekhawat, who defeated CM Ashok Gehlot’s son Vaibhav Gehlot to enter Lok Sabha once again, is a favorite of Home Minister Amit Shah, and is considered as a choice that the high command may opt for.
Although Union Minister Bhupendra Yadav is from Ajmer, keeping in mind the importance of Ahirwal vote bank, he is being groomed by the BJP high command for future leadership in Haryana.
Seven-term MLA and deputy leader in the assembly, Rajendra Singh Rathore, who was an ardent Raje supporter at one point of time but has now turned into her opponent, is also among the options.
“This time, the party would like to contest assembly elections under a collective leadership and there is a greater possibility that, like the rest of the states, the chief minister’s name will be announced only after ascertaining full majority,” a senior leader said. “So at this moment, the party should entirely focus on winning two by-elections.”
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)