Over the last few weeks, senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje has been making serious attempts to mobilise voters in the Mewar and Vagad regions of southern Rajasthan. Her apparent pitch for the post of Chief Minister in front of a reluctant high command has led to churning within the BJP, the principal Opposition party in the State.
Ms. Raje’s political clout in the BJP has declined since the 2018 elections in Rajasthan, which the party lost. The rift between Ms. Raje and Home Minister Amit Shah became apparent back then when she opposed his proposal of appointing Gajendra Singh Shekhawat as the State unit chief. After months of suspense, the party appointed Madan Lal Saini to the post. This seemed to calm tensions for sometime. However, in 2019, after Mr. Saini’s death, the party high command appointed Satish Poonia, one of Ms. Raje’s main detractors, as the new chief. Ms. Raje stopped attending many of the party meetings and her face disappeared from several BJP hoardings.
But the former Chief Minister’s meeting with senior BJP leaders, including the Prime Minister, in Delhi last year; her presence at oath-taking ceremonies of some BJP Chief Ministers; and her birthday celebrations, which were a show of strength suggest that she is back in the spotlight. A few days ago, shortly after the BJP’s Jan Aakrosh Yatra, launched to highlight the Congress’s “failures,” drew a lukewarm response from the public, Ms. Raje embarked on a journey to the tribal-dominated regions. Her visit to Dungarpur district’s famous Beneshwar Dham during the annual fair of the tribal people, was replete with political messages.
Ms. Raje, who received a warm welcome in Udaipur and Dungarpur, crossed the river bridge on foot to reach the temple. When she paid obeisance at the temple and bought colourful glass bangles at the fair, tribal people gathered at multiple locations to catch a glimpse of her.
Udaipur MP Arjun Lal Meena, Banswara MP Kanak Mal Katara, several MLAs of the region and office-bearers of the BJP’s district units welcomed Ms. Raje and accompanied her during her visit. The former Chief Minister interacted with local BJP leaders and workers and attempted to gauge the acceptability of her leadership in the party. While trying her hand at bow and arrow, Ms. Raje said that there would soon be a change of government and promised that incomplete development work would be completed.
In Sagwara town, Ms. Raje met party workers and office-bearers from each of the Assembly constituencies of Dungarpur, Banswara and Udaipur districts separately and told them that the people, troubled by the “misrule of the Congress,” had made up their mind that they wanted a change of government this year. She rode a scooter belonging to a schoolgirl, who had received it in a special scheme of the previous BJP government.
Just before her three-day tour to southern Rajasthan, Ms. Raje also created a flutter by posting on her Twitter and Facebook handles a four-month-old video in which she was heard saying that the public’s affection meant everything to her. The video from the BJP working committee meeting held in Hyderabad triggered speculation in political circles about her apparent message to the BJP high command.
While Ms. Raje seems to be trying to project herself as the BJP’s face in Rajasthan, the road ahead for her will be far from smooth. There are at least two leaders – BJP State president Poonia and Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat – who seem to be vying for the top post should the BJP return to power in the State. Mr. Poonia has especially been unhappy as Ms. Raje’s pictures have reappeared on BJP’s hoardings.
Ms. Raje’s supporters say that she obtained a clear majority in the 2003 elections and commanded a massive victory in the 2013 elections, whereas now, the series of losses in Assembly byelections, including in two of the BJP’s own seats, indicate the failure of the State leadership. On the other hand, Mr. Poonia’s supporters claim that he has mobilised the cadre.
The widening rift between the two camps is a challenge to the BJP. While the high command has made attempts to improve relations between the Raje and Poonia factions, they have been unsuccessful. With the State going to the polls this December, the BJP will need to put its house in order and demonstrate a united face.