Of the three BJP-ruled states going to the polls at end-2018, the party is really worried about Rajasthan. More so after it lost to the Congress two parliamentary and one Assembly seats recently, which proved the anti-incumbency factor was working against CM 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.
Raje 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 CM of Rajasthan in 2003. She had been protecting her turf for the past two decades and even challenged her patron, former Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.
One of the slogans heard in Rajasthan during the recent campaign was: “Modi tujhse bair nahin, Rani teri khair nahin (Modi, we have nothing against you, but Rani, we’re not going to spare you”). So, it is only natural that the BJP is trying to pull up its socks and appointed Rajya Sabha member Madanlal Saini as the new state party chief this week after several rounds of discussions. He has an 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, sidelining her detractors. The problem is that, with her waning popularity, she has to fight a growing number of detractors in the party, besides the main Opposition, the Congress.
The odds are against Raje. The first is double anti-incumbency as the BJP is ruling at the state and the Centre. Besides, 2018 is not 2013 and Raje is one of the most unpopular BJP CMs today. 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 such pressing issues as unemployment, price rise, government staff pay hike, doctors’ strike and deteriorating law and order. Charges of being soft on corruption have also stuck to her. The business community, too, is disenchanted after GST roll-out. Agrarian distress is yet another issue. There have been several protests by farmers and only recently did the government enable them to procure loans from banks.
Second, the RSS mainly responsible for BJP victory in the state is also disappointed with the CM and has distanced itself, which was one of the reasons for the bypoll losses. The RSS was put off by the way she cold-shouldered them.
Third, although she managed to save her pride by winning the Dholpur constituency last year, from where she had made her political debut in 1985, the BJP lost 17 Assembly and one Lok Sabha bypolls 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 had won by a margin of over 1.7 lakh votes in 2014. In Alwar, a seat that the BJP won by over 2.84 lakh votes in 2014, it lost by a massive margin of over 1.96 lakh votes.
Fourth, the state BJP unit is facing revolt from such leaders as Ghanshyam Tiwari, who has floated an outfit, Deendayal Vahini, alleging corruption in high places. Factional fights and indiscipline need to be addressed. Fifth, Raje has alienated such influential caste groupings 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 such charismatic leaders as 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 could 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, such as Bhamashah Yojana, Mukhya Mantri Jal Swalamban Abihyan, Grameen Gaurav Path Yojana and Annapurna Stores. More importantly, the BJP should adopt a softer approach towards the disenchanted caste groups to make them come back to the BJP fold. Vasundhara had said after the bypoll defeat, “We’ll go to the people, work harder and win back their blessings,” and that is what she must do. Her royal mystique and change of style of functioning combined, she might improve her chances. But, if the Congress shows a united face, it will be difficult for Raje and the BJP.
(The writer is a political commentator)