By Kalyani Shankar
Of the three BJP ruled states going to polls at the end of the year, the party is really worried about Rajasthan. It is more so after it lost to the Congress two parliamentary and one Assembly seats recently, which had proved the anti-incumbency factor was working against Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. The BJP is desperate to retain Rajasthan and so is the Congress – which wants to return to power. The Congress and the BJP have been alternating in power in the state for the past three decades and more.
Vasundhara hails from the Gwalior royal family and is the erstwhile Maharani of Dholpur, a princely state. She came into her own when she became the first woman chief minister of Rajasthan in 2003. She had been protecting her turf for the past two decades and even challenged her patron, former Vice President Bairon Singh Shekhawat.
One of the slogans heard in Rajasthan during recent campaign was “Modi tujhse bair nahin, Rani teri khair nahin (Modi we have nothing against you, but Rani we are not going to spare you.”) So, it is only natural that the BJP is trying to pull up its socks and appointed this weekRajya Sabha Member Madanlal Saini as the new state party chief after several rounds of discussions. He has the RSS background. Vasundhara won this round by blocking party chief Amit Shah’s first choice, Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, and Saini was the consensus candidate. She has total control over the state unit and has appointed her loyalists side-lining her detractors. The problem is that with her waning popularity, she has to fight the growing number of detractors in the party and the main opposition, the Congress.
The odds are against Raje. The first is the double anti-incumbency as the BJP is ruling at the state and the Centre. Besides, 2018 is not 2013 and Vasundhara today is one of the most unpopular BJP chief ministers. She is known for her inaccessibility as well as her style of functioning. Some leaders had even complained against her to the high command. A handful of bureaucrats run the show. She had not addressed the issues like unemployment, price rise, government staff pay hike, doctors’ strike, deteriorating law and order. The charges of being soft on corruption have stuck to her. The business community is also disenchanted after the GST was rolled out. The agrarian distress is yet another issue. There have been several protests by the farmers and only recently the government had enabled them to procure loans from the banks.
Secondly, the RSS, which was mainly responsible for the BJP victory in the state is also disappointed with the chief minister and has distanced itself, which was one of the reasons for the by-poll losses. The RSS is put off by the way she cold-shouldered them.
Thirdly, though she managed to save her pride by winning Dholpur constituency last year, from where she made her political debut in 1985, the BJP lost 17 Assembly and one Lok Sabha by-poll under her leadership. The party lost seats even where the BJP was very strong. The BJP candidate from Ajmer lost to the Congress by over 84,000 votes from a seat it won by a margin of more than 1.70 lakh votes in 2014. In Alwar, a seat BJP won by over 2.84 lakh votes in 2014, the BJP lost by a massive margin of over 1.96 lakh votes.
Fourthly, the state BJP unit is facing revolt from leaders like Ghanshyam Tiwari, who has floated an outfit — ‘Deendayal Vahini’ — alleging corruption in high places. There are other disgruntled elements raising their shrill voices. Factional fights and indiscipline needs to be addressed.
Fifthly, Raje has alienated influential caste groupings, such as Jats, Brahmins, Rajputs and Gurjars.Gujjars and Brahmins are turning against the party over reservation and other issues. Jats are confused as they now lack charismatic leaders like Nathuram Mirdha, Parasaram Maderna, and Ram Niwas Mirdha.
The BJP is in a catch-22 situation. While losing the state in the Hindi heartland might worry the party, a change in the leadership might rock the boat. Raje is the BJP’s best bet, but she is also its weakness. Rajasthan gave BJP 25 out of 25 Lok Sabha seats in 2014.
Even now it is not too late to rectify mistakes. For this, Vasundhara should improve implementation of state and central schemes and come up with more welfare schemes. To her credit she has introduced several welfare schemes like Bhamashah Yojna, Mukhya Mantri Jal Swalamban Abihyan, Grameen Gaurav Path Yojna and Annapurna stores. More importantly, the BJP should adopt a softer approach towards the disenchanted caste groups to come back to the BJP fold, mollify the various factions and try to take them along. Vasundhara had said after the by-poll defeat, “We will go to people, work harder and win back their blessings,” and that is what she must do. Combined with her royal mystique, and change of her style of functioning, she might improve her chances. But if the Congress shows a united face, then it will be difficult for Raje and the BJP. (IPA Service)