BJP's OBC game plan in Rajasthan hobbled by infighting

Shah's visit to Rajasthan has served two purposes- wooing OBC votes and presenting a united front of the saffron Party in Rajasthan
Last Updated 14 September 2022, 15:17 IST

Union home minister Amit Shah's recent visit to Rajasthan served the twin purposes of presenting a united front of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s state unit and wooing the OBC votes.

In his public meeting in Jodhpur, Shah reminded thousands of BJP workers who were in attendance that there are only two states with Congress governments in the country - Rajasthan and Chattisgarh. Shah's message to party leaders was clear: the BJP has to win these two states where elections are slated in December 2023.

While Shah praised the party state unit chief Satish Poonia for his work at the booth level, he also lauded the achievements and schemes of the Vasundhara Raje-led previous BJP government (2013-18). According to party insiders, Shah's visit was seen as an attempt to bring together the party's warring factions in Rajasthan.

In Rajasthan BJP, the infighting between the Raje and the Poonia factions is an open secret. Factionalism worries the party's central leadership. It became evident when the party's national general secretary issued an open warning to the two feuding factions during the 'Chintan Shivir' meeting in Kumbalgarh last year. While Raje's supporters have been pressurising the BJP to announce her name as the chief ministerial candidate for the 2023 polls, the Poonia camp, on the other hand, has been opposing the demand.

Moreover, taking lessons from the 2018 assembly polls, when the BJP had performed poorly in some districts in western Rajasthan, this time before addressing the rally in Jodhpur, Shah made an effort to woo the OBC community and presided over the valedictory session of a meeting of the party's national OBC Morcha. Western Rajasthan, including Jodhpur, has a significant OBC population, with OBC communities such as Jats playing a decisive factor in several seats. Interestingly, CM Ashok Gehlot belongs to the Mali community, an OBC caste.

"During his last visit to Rajasthan, Amit Shah had asked us to focus on the OBC votes, and the western region holds the maximum of these. His other instructions were to stay united as a party, not as any individual groups," said a senior BJP leader.

In the Assembly of 200 seats, the ruling Congress has 106 MLAs, the BJP 71, the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) three, the CPI(M) and Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) two each, and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) one. The Assembly has 13 independent legislators.

Shah's open attack on the Congress government

At the public meeting, Shah made the estimated 30,000 BJP workers pledge to 'uproot' the Gehlot government and accused the Congress of 'going back on its promises, appeasement politics, misgovernance and failure to check crimes.

"I have come to your village (hometown) to remind you of your promises. You and Rahul Gandhi have fooled the people of Rajasthan, and we, the BJP, want to fix accountability," Shah said in an attack on Gehlot, who has represented Jodhpur's Sardarpura seat five consecutive times since 1998. The CM's son, Vaibhav, contested the Lok Sabha election from Jodhpur in 2019, losing to the BJP's Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. Gehlot had represented the Jodhpur Lok Sabha seat for two terms, from 1980 to 1989.

Shah questioned Gehlot on his promises of waiving off farm loans, guaranteeing unemployment allowance, and failing to reduce VAT on petrol. In its 2018 Assembly polls election manifesto, the Congress promised a full farm loan waiver, an unemployment allowance of ₹3,500 a month, and 20 lakh jobs for youths. While the government did waive off short-term farm loans from state cooperative banks, the loan waiver for commercial and national banks has been in limbo since 2018.

"What happened to false promises of job guarantee and farm loan waiver? Rajasthan has the highest diesel and petrol prices, and when the BJP comes to power, we shall reduce it," Shah said. The Union home minister also referred to the recent communal incidents in the state in the last few months, including the killing of Kanhaiya Lal Teli in Udaipur and clashes in Jodhpur.

Within three hours of Shah's Jodhpur public rally, Gehlot's office in Jaipur issued a statement refuting the Union home minister's charges. "Amit Shah's statement in Jodhpur is full of lies. As compared to Jaipur, the most expensive diesel and petrol prices are available in Bhopal, the BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh," it said, terming Shah's allegations as a pack of lies.

Regarding another claim by Shah over the Udaipur killing, Gehlot said, "A day after the Udaipur incident took place, the BJP leaders were having lunch and dinner at a five-star hotel in Hyderabad. And I was at the house of Kanhaiyalal along with the state's home minister, chief secretary and the DGP. This makes evident who was more concerned about peace and maintaining law and order," he said.

"Also, the photos of one of the killers of the Udaipur tailor, Riyaz Attari joining the BJP went viral on social media. Will the BJP clear its stand on it? The NIA, which is investigating the case, should also find out if there was any political conspiracy in this," the statement said.

Gehlot claimed that his government fulfilled the promise of farmer loan waiver after coming to power in 2018 and has so far waived the loans of about 21 lakh farmers worth Rs 8000 crore

(The writer is a Rajasthan-based senior journalist)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

(Published 14 September 2022, 10:50 IST)

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