Factionalism is out in the open in the State BJP unit as Vasundhara Raje is tipped to return as party leader and candidate for chief ministership

Is former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje going to be back as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) State president and the chief ministerial candidate for this year’s Assembly elections in Rajasthan? Will that decision be made from Delhi or will a group of local satraps have their say and prevent her from leading the party?

These concerns have wracked the BJP’s Rajasthan unit, and split the party into pro- and anti-Raje factions, the latter mostly comprising senior leaders associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

The split has been triggered chiefly by rumours that Ms Raje would soon replace Arun Chaturvedi as the State BJP president and be its chief ministerial candidate for the Assembly elections, scheduled later this year.

Help from a yatra

The anti-Raje campaign has gained momentum with former Minister Gulab Chand Kataria launching his anti-corruption Lok Janjagaran Yatra from Pratapgarh district.

Eight months ago, Mr. Kataria had shelved his yatra, although he had support from the party’s central leadership, after Ms Raje and her supporters threatened to resign from the party.

The anti-Raje faction is opposed to the idea of a single individual being the State president as well as the chief ministerial candidate.

The party’s Rajasthan in-charge Kaptan Singh Solanki was in Jaipur recently to hear out the concerns being raised by several senior leaders.

Last week, party leaders led by veterans Gulab Chand Kataria, Ghanshyam Tiwari and Ramdas Agrawal — all considered to be Ms Raje’s political rivals within the party, met Mr. Solanki and made it clear that the next State president should be unanimously selected and not forced upon them by the central leadership.

Mr. Solanki was reportedly told that no probable chief ministerial candidate should be made the State president and the name of the chief ministerial candidate should not be declared before the elections.

Addressing media persons after the meeting, Mr. Kataria said the BJP should remain what it is and attempts to impose one person on the party would not be tolerated.

Closed door meetings are on, but anti-Raje voices are no longer a closed-door phenomenon in the State.

Earlier this month, the State BJP celebrated former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s birthday as Sushasan Divas or good governance day.

Addressing a gathering of party workers and journalists at the Birla Auditorium, then senior party leader Ghanshyam Tiwari expressed his concern over a single individual weighing over the entire party.

“These days, the leadership talks in the State BJP start and end with the letter V,” Mr. Tiwari had said without naming anyone.

Kaptan Singh Solanki, while admitting that Ms Raje was the face of the party in the State, seemed hesitant to make any official announcement in this regard. He also ruled out the existence of factionalism in the party but accepted that mistakes made by the party in recent elections needed to be corrected.

“There is no factionalism in the party, just difference of opinion. That is why I met several party leaders and workers to hear out these different ideas and opinions regarding the party’s poor performance in the 2008 Assembly elections and 2009 parliamentary elections,” Mr. Solanki told The Hindu.

In the Raje camp

Raje loyalists have upped the ante too. Pratapgarh MLA Nandla Meena, a very vocal supporter of the former CM, has accused Mr. Kataria of siding with renegade BJP MP Kirodilal Meena and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.

“What Yatra? Earlier he was MLA from Badi Sadri; when people drove him out, he came to represent Udaipur and now that people from Udaipur want him out, he wants to go back. That’s all his yatra is all about,” Mr. Meena told The Hindu.

“The people want Vasundhara Raje to be the leader, all party workers want the elections to be fought under her leadership and my opinion is the same,” said Mr. Meena.

However, Mr. Solanki reacted sharply to Nandlal Meena’s open charge against Mr. Kataria.

“These are internal matters of the party and should not be leaked out to the press. Those who have been speaking to the press about these issues should exercise a little restraint,” he said.

Through all the controversy, BJP State president Arun Chaturvedi has maintained a low profile.

“The party president’s position is very clear. He fulfilled the responsibility that was given to him and now if the central leadership wants to give him another responsibility, he is ready to fulfil that too,” BJP spokesperson Vimal Katiyar said.

Ms Raje, currently touring the State, recently broke her silence on the issue in Jodhpur by saying the party was united and differences, if there were any, would be sorted out in no time.

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