Ruling parties are often internally divided on sharing power and pelf. In contrast, parties in the opposition are usually cohesive, and single-minded in the pursuit of power. But in Rajasthan, the Bharatiya Janata Party seems as divided while in the opposition as it was while in power. There is more than a year to go for the next Assembly election, but the party is already witnessing a struggle for the Chief Minister's job. True, things are going badly for the Congress government led by Ashok Gehlot, but it is still too premature for the BJP to fight over who the next CM should be. The first signs of trouble began when State party leader Gulabchand Kataria proposed to take out a yatra. Since yatras are the preferred way of demonstrating one's leadership in the BJP, former Chief Minister and Leader of the Opposition Vasundhara Raje saw this as a challenge and threatened to resign. Not wanting to invite unnecessary trouble for himself and his party, Mr. Kataria called off the yatra but the Vasundhara camp chose to up the ante. Sensing that additional political space had opened up for her in the party, Ms Raje encouraged her supporters to demand that she be named the chief ministerial candidate for the 2013 election. The national leadership of the BJP is now in a fix: to not give in to the demand of the Vasundhara camp could pave the way for the weakening of the party at the State level, and to give in could undermine the authority of the party at the national level.
Of course, what is being played out in Rajasthan is a microcosm of the bigger fight within the BJP over the influence wielded by those owing allegiance directly to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Mr. Kataria is a known RSS supporter, and his yatra to highlight Congress “misrule” in Rajasthan had all the markings of a proxy war on behalf of the RSS against Ms Raje. Despite leading the party to defeat in 2008, Ms Raje was unwilling to relinquish her leadership role and had sought to reassert her position within the party. But the RSS was intent on putting down such personality-driven politics, and was seeking to create an alternative leadership that was more subservient. Yielding further ground to Ms Raje would have meant allowing her out of the orbit of influence. Many Vasundhara supporters in the Assembly have now threatened to resign to show their support for her. For both Ms Raje and the RSS, it is important to win these little battles ahead of the 2013 election. But lost in all this internal fighting are people's issues, the livelihood concerns that should have been centre-staged ahead of the Assembly election. Come 2013, the party might well regret putting the cart before the horse.