New Delhi: All BJP leaders in Rajasthan have been ‘working towards dislodging’ the Ashok Gehlot government in the last few weeks, be it state unit chief Satish Poonia or veteran Gulab Chand Kataria. But the one face that’s been missing from action is Rajyavardhan Rathore, who was the blue-eyed boy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi once.
The Jaipur Rural Lok Sabha MP, who was the Minister of Information and Broadcasting (independent charge) in the first term of the Modi government, has been in a political exile since he was dropped from the Union cabinet in May 2019.
Now, he is neither managing party affairs in Rajasthan nor managing MLAs for a royal coup in the Rajputana state, said sources in the BJP.
The high-risk political operation is being managed by Poonia, Kataria, Arun Chaturvedi and Rajendra Rathore in the state, and by Water Resources Minister Gajendra Shekhawat, and party vice-president Om Prakash Mathur at the Centre, said the sources.
Rathore, an Olympic silver-medalist, had been cultivated as the successor to former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje. But now he just shuttles between Delhi and Jaipur, where he works for his constituency.
As far as having a say in organisational matters is concerned, he is neither in the state core group, which usually comprises top unit leaders, nor the larger party organisation despite his dynamism, fluency in both English and Rajasthani, and track record as a minister. He is also not in any central BJP team.
Multiple party leaders ThePrint spoke to said they had no idea why Rathore was dropped in 2019 and fell out of favour.
“His reason for isolation is the same as when he was dropped from the cabinet. The Prime Minister’s Office keeps track of every minister’s conduct. Some were dropped in 2019 on performance issues and some were dropped because of purely political reasons. Some were dropped on charges of financial irregularity and other allegations. One was dropped because his family member misused influence,” said a party leader who didn’t wish to be named.
However, an MP who didn’t wish to be named said the main reason why Rathore is missing from political action is that “he is not in the good books of the top two decision-makers”, referring to PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.
ThePrint reached Rathore via text messages for a comment but there was no response until the time of publishing this report.
Exit from Union cabinet
Rajyavardhan Rathore was dropped from the Union cabinet last year despite winning his seat with a handsome margin. It was thought at the time that the party president may give him the charge of the state unit after the death of Madan Lal Saini, then BJP state president, in June 2019.
This was based on the presumption that the PM had shown a tilt towards Rathore during his term as the I&B minister.
In the government’s first tenure, three ministers — Arun Jaitley, M. Venkaiah Naidu and Smriti Irani — held the I&B charge, but were removed later. Rathore, who was the minister of state under all three, was given the department after Irani’s high-profile exit. He was the only minister who kept the portfolio and was retained.
Earlier, he also received the additional charge of the Ministry of Sports ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. It was considered one of the best decisions of Modi to appoint a sportsman, especially in view of India’s poor performance in the Rio Olympics 2016.
However, when the government was re-elected, Rathore suddenly found himself out of the cabinet.
The Rajasthan BJP politics
After his ouster from the Centre, Satish Poonia, a lightweight general secretary in the state unit, was appointed as BJP Rajasthan chief in September 2019.
A senior Rajasthan leader said Vasundhara Raje had halted Gajendra Singh Shekhawat’s appointment as BJP state president in 2018 on the grounds that the Jats will be angry as the latter is from the Rajput community. BJP later suffered defeat in some Jat-dominated seats in the state assembly polls in December 2018.
“So, after Madan Lal Saini’s death in June 2019, the Centre tried to balance caste equation by appointing a Jat as state president because Gajendra Shekhawat is representing the Rajput community and Arjun Ram Meghwal the Scheduled Castes in cabinet, and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla influential Marwari communities,” said the leader who didn’t wish to be named. Poonia is a Jat.
However, the first leader quoted above said Rathore’s decline is connected to the same reason because of which the PM dropped him. “The PM keeps a check on every minister’s conduct. If he finds any reason against him, he doesn’t drop him immediately but waits for a reshuffle. He doesn’t want unnecessary media headlines,” said the leader.
“The PM sent a message by dropping him, it is his way of working. But it is not necessary that he will be in permanent exile. He will be given an ear based on the political needs of the hour,” added the leader.
Focused on constituency now
Sources said Rajyavardhan Rathore has mainly been active in his constituency since his departure from the central government. He was involved in distributing food during the migrant crisis, and masks and sanitisers during the Covid-19 pandemic. He also held meetings with district collectors and other officials when locusts attacked Rajasthan last month.
“But he is not involved in party strategy meetings in the state so his work is centred on his constituency. Despite being a good speaker, he avoids TV debate too,” said the senior state leader quoted above.
Earlier this week, he addressed a press conference in Jaipur on his work as MP in the implementation of the Atmatnirbhar Bharat package and a month-long organisational drive on the Centre’s anniversary celebrations.
Nihal Chand, his colleague in Lok Sabha and ex-minister of state in the Modi cabinet, said Rathore is largely involved in his constituency.
“He has done remarkable work during this pandemic and it was appreciated. He toured every assembly segment in his constituency and was available for assistance,” said Chand.
The MP quoted above said, “Another factor in his lesser involvement is his introverted nature and reservation in talking to MLAs. He doesn’t interact with party men frequently. He is not social like other leaders so MLAs also keep distance with him.”
When the rebellion in Rajasthan Congress broke out earlier this month, Rathore tweeted that the truth shall win in the opposition regime. He tagged Congress MLA Sachin Pilot, who’s leading the rebel camp.
— Col Rajyavardhan Rathore (@Ra_THORe) July 14, 2020
However, another one of his tweets from this month, posted as a wish for the recovery of Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan from Covid, could also be seen as a cryptic message on his own political career.
“Main palat kar aaunga, shakhon par khushboo lekar, abhi patjhad ki jad me hoon, mausam zara badalne do (I will return with fragrances, stuck as I’m right now in autumn… But let the seasons change).”
"मैं पलट के आऊंगा
शाखों पर खुशबुएँ लेकर
पतझड़ की जद में हूं
मौसम जरा बदलने दो"
कोरोड़ो लोगों के दिलों में बसने वाले हिंदी सिनेमा के महानायक @SrBachchan जी व उनके परिवार के शीघ्र स्वस्थ्य होने की कामना करता हूं।
— Col Rajyavardhan Rathore (@Ra_THORe) July 12, 2020
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