Search for Rajasthan BJP chief continues

Search for Rajasthan BJP chief continues

If there were any doubts regarding Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and the BJP central leadership for not being on the same page, the indecisiveness over the choice for the next state BJP president has proved it.

Even after 17 days of Ashok Parnami’s exit as the Rajasthan BJP chief, there has been suspense and silence over who will succeed him. Parnami, seen as a Raje loyalist, had to step down after the party suffered crushing defeats in the Ajmer and Alwar Lok Sabha bypolls and the Mandalgarh Assembly bypoll.

While the BJP central leadership, with the support of the RSS, is willing to make Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat as the next state president, Raje and her loyalists are opposing as Shekhawat, a Rajput, would further alienate Jats in Rajasthan. Also, Shekhawat, known as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s man, will be the second power centre in Rajasthan, and an alternative to Vasundhara as the next chief minister.

The BJP has got down to the task of making big organisational changes in the local units of states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh before going to the hustings with unit chiefs being removed and new ones being appointed quickly. However, the speed has been missing in Rajasthan. Hours after Parnami’s exit, Shekhawat’s name started doing the rounds as celebrations broke out in his home turf of Jodhpur.

Since then Vasundhara has left no stone unturned to go against his candidature as Jats constitute about 12% of the state’s population whereas Rajput’s are around 9-10%. To balance the caste-based rivalry, she suggested a Brahmin-like state Cabinet minister Srichand Kriplani or Social Justice Minister Arun Chaturvedi, also known as her “Yes Man.”

To further register her disagreement, Vasundhara went on to meet party national president Amit Shah and general secretary (organisation) Ram Lal in New Delhi, where she categorically told the central leadership that in case Shekhawat becomes the state president, it could wean away Jat and Dalit voters from the BJP.

Secondly, if Shekhawat becomes the party chief, the Centre will have direct interference and the RSS will have a say right from the ticket distribution and strategy planning ahead of the Assembly polls slated later in 2018. Shekhawat’s elevation as the party chief will also make him the second tallest leader among Rajputs.

Incidentally, while his name was doing the rounds, a court in Jodhpur summoned Shekhawat in a 15-year-old matter in which he was booked for lodging a false complaint. The court directed him to appear before it on June 30. A party insider said, “Lobbying against Shekhawat within the party are out to dampen his prospects, which is why a forgotten case was brought up.” However, Shekhawat made it clear that he was neither involved in the race for the state head nor did he show any desire to be a candidate for the post. “If the national leadership entrusts the responsibility on me, then I will carry it with full sincerity”, Shekhawat told the media in Jodhpur.

Devi Singh Bhati, a BJP legislator and also a Rajput leader, cited a few reasons over why appointing Shekhawat to the post would further damage the party’s standing. “Shekhawat is inexperienced in state politics. We are reeling under the ire of various castes, be it Rajputs or SC/STs. We are going into the elections with people’s discontent with the state government rising hence we need to be extra cautious,” Bhati told DH.

According to political observers, the BJP is playing the caste card to ensure that the Vasundhara Raje government in the state comes back to power. “After the demise of Sawarlal Jat, there has been a void in the Jat leadership in the BJP. They also lost Ajmer and lost a Lok Sabha seat in the bypolls where his son was contesting. Now the BJP does not want to worsen the situation by making a Rajput leader head of the party, which is why they are batting for a safe bet, a Brahmin face”, Rajiv Gupta, political expert and former Sociology professor at Rajasthan University, told DH.

“Also with elections a few months away any party would want someone from the trading background to be on the key position so that there is no financial crunch. Parnami has been a trader and was good at managing and bringing funds to the party,” Gupta added.

Lack of plan?

The Congress also took a dig at the difference of opinion over the probable candidates between Vasundhara and the BJP leadership. “Whoever will become the party head knows he will lose the elections. Hence no one wants to be the one,” Congress state unit chief Sachin Pilot said.

With polls around the corner, the dilemma has put party’s workers in confusion. After Parnami’s removal from the post of state president, the work of appointing booth executives and Panna Pramukhs has slowed down as everyone is focussed on Karnataka elections.

“At present, BJP functionaries are busy with Karnataka polls. Shekhawat has also been given the responsibility for the Karnataka elections and he is focusing on ensuring the BJP’s victory there. We are hoping that after the polls get over in Karnataka, a name will be announced,” said a district party leader.

In the last three weeks, as the tug of war between the state and the central leadership was on, Vasundhara made herself more visible on the ground. Maybe she has understood the clear hints of the central leadership and their attempts at appointing a parallel personality.

More than a healthy democratic dissent, the suspense over the party head has highlighted indecisiveness, lack of a plan and strong differences between Vasundhara, Shah and Modi.