Raje's defiance aimed at extracting her pound of flesh

Raje's defiance aimed at extracting her pound of flesh

Vasundhara Raje showed her defiance by holding the BJP legislature party meeting on the eve of the Assembly session last month. Later, during a protest outside the Assembly, Raje was successful in sending her message across to the party’s central leadership: She was in no mood to give in. It seems the stars have favoured her so far and she is continuing to negotiate her terms with the party leadership.

While she is keeping everyone guessing over her exit and possible next move, an uneasy calm prevails in the state BJP headquarters. Her detractors in the party are obviously unhappy and anxious over her defiant mood. On the other hand, her followers are confident that she will emerge successful once the dust settles down. The ruling Congress is, understandably, relishing the political drama over her exit.

It is rather unfortunate that Raje, who swept the 2003 Assembly election with an unprecedented majority for the BJP, should face an ugly battle and a forced departure. The saffron party owes a lot to her for routing the Congress. It was for the first time that the BJP won with a full majority in Rajasthan under her leadership. A prime reason for the electoral win was the Parivartan Yatra that she undertook across the state.

She rose to instant popularity among the people who lent their support for Raje whose poll campaign involved door-to-door canvassing, an act that won the electorate’s admiration. With a progressive outlook for Rajasthan, she worked on mega projects, dreamt of taking the state to new heights, gave a facelift to the state secretariat and organised function ostentatiously during her five years in power. Ironically, in doing so, she gradually lost touch with her own partymen and MLAs, mostly awe-struck by her style. No other chief minister in the history of Rajasthan has enjoyed such high degree of sycophancy as Raje. She was revered in posters and calendars; some of her ministerial colleagues worshipped her in deity and poets sang paeans in her appreciation. However, it was this deification that gave rise to differences between the chief minister and senior party leader Jaswant Singh whose wife lodged an FIR against Raje on grounds of being deified.

While continuing to be popular among the masses, especially women, who would swell in large numbers at public meetings, Raje failed to notice the dissension within. The BJP’s five-year rule over the state was not without controversy, triggered by two senior cabinet colleagues, who openly rebelled against her over the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) issue.

Her autocratic style of functioning invited the wrath of party colleagues not only in the state but also in Delhi. At the state level, party MLAs seethed in anger because they felt Raje did not give them the respect they deserved. That style of functioning was not limited to dealings with party work and partymen. Her ruthless and no-nonsense approach to work in the state secretariat peeved senior bureaucrats on several occasions.

State BJP chief Om Prakash Mathur and Raje never went along well and the party paid a heavy price for their differences. The growing dissension within the party grew worse ahead of the election campaign, especially on the issue of ticket distribution. The infighting and resentment over ticket distribution caused several prospective candidates to rebel who reportedly worked against the in the interest of the party. The defeat in the Assembly poll, however, was only the beginning of a greater fall in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls.

Her followers said the Assembly poll result was not a clear verdict against her misrule. But the Lok Sabha polls did not leave any scope for speculation. Raje’s charm was definitely on the wane. Ashok Gehlot, who often wittily claims himself as a ‘jadugar’ (being the son of a magician), made Raje bite the dust in the general elections.

Having lost two elections, another battle awaited Raje on the home front as party insiders started exerting pressure on her to resign from the post of Leader of Opposition. State party chief Om Prakash Mathur resigned after the debacle, thus shifting the burden on Raje to step down. She has so far deferred doing so and doesn’t seem in a mood to quit. For, she believes, she still commands sufficient following in the legislature party and, therefore, cannot be forced by the central leadership to step down.

She has dared to defy/defer the order of BJP president Rajnath Singh. She has showed her grit and courage in the moment of crisis by negotiating her terms and conditions before she says steps down as Leader of Opposition. She wants a successor of her choice in the Rajasthan BJP. If she manages to convince the central leadership, she will emerge stronger within the party and garner enough support within to make a comeback in Rajasthan politics.