Rajasthan Polls: Vasundhara Raje's Grand Show Of Strength Exposes Fault Lines Within BJP
In poll bound Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje's grand show of strength brings out fault lines within State party unit.
In a grand show of strength at the much-revered temple of Salasar Balaji in Churu district of Rajasthan, former chief minister of the state and BJP leader Vasundhara Raje held a massive public rally as part of her 70th birthday celebrations.
She urged people of the state to vote out Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government in the assembly polls scheduled end of the year, claiming he had "pushed the state into darkness, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi's efforts to bring in amrit-kaal."
Raje, who had been sidelined by the state party unit for last four years, has become active in the state again for last many months. She had recently gone to tribal dominated Dungarpur and was seen interacting with the women there.
Raje's birthday falls on March 8 but since it is Holi on that day this year, Saturday was chosen for the programme as it is also considered auspicious day for Lord Hanuman.
Speaking in Salasar that attracts devotees of Lord Hanuman from across the country, she lashed out against Gehlot for "not doing anything for the welfare of people and only renaming the schemes that she started and bringing to the state evils such as extortions and gang wars."
From start to finish, Raje's speech was filled with an equal mix of reminders of her own welfare policies and attacks on the Gehlot government. She was confident, challenging and seemed to have a renewed sense of purpose and mission, bolstered by the cheers of the crowd. Her confidantes reminded people of how both times in 2003 and 2013 when the party had declared her as the CM candidate, it had stormed back to power. Rajasthan had alternated between The Congress and the BJP governments for the last 25 years years.
Raje also attacked the Congress government for stalling the progress of the State, referring to the continuing rift between Ashok-Gehlot and Sachin Pilot. At one point she accused the state government of using the bulldozer to demolish sacred Hindu shrines. She also said it was only under the BJP government that people from all faiths can live in harmony with each other, because there will be effective implementation of law and order.
She called herself a committed soldier of ideology who was working to implement the vision of PM Modi under the leadership of BJP President JP Nadda.
"I thank you for standing by me through all ups and downs. Everyday I pray to God to give me more strength to work for you. When we won in 2004, we worked hard to get the state rid of the bimaru tag. Again in 2013, you trusted us ... schemes such as Bhamashah started first in the State," she said, claiming that not more than 100 people have benefitted from Gehlot government's flagship health insurance programme.
Just when Raje was addressing the public meeting, BJP's youth wing, the Yuva Morcha, launched a protest to march to Gehlot's residence on the issue of exam paper leaks. All party leaders were also asked to make the protest a success, but Raje's rally saw the presence of at least nine MPs, including her son and Jhalawar MP Dushyant Singh.
Several MPs Nihal Chand, PP Chaudhary, MLAs Pratap Singh Singhvi, Anita Bhadel and Deepti Maheshwari, former MLAs Kalicharan Saraf, Ashok Parnami, Rajpal Shekhawat and Yunus Khan were present at the event. Khan who was the number two in Raje government, the only Muslim candidate the BJP fielded in 2018, had brought in hundreds of supporters to Raje's event to make a point. Khan, originally from Deedwana was fielded from Tonk against Sachin Pilot despite his resistance and had lost.
Raje's tussle with party leaders didn't dampen the spirit of her admirers who watched her perform havan at the temple, and then participated in the mass recitation of Hanuman chalisa that she led.
After the programme, she met many of the people individually for over three hours, accepting sketches, flowers and sweets. Streets of Salasar has an abundance of posters of Raje, while workers chanted the slogan, "Kesariya mein Hara, Hara, Rajasthan mein Vasundhara," referring to BJP's flag colours.
Incidentally, Churu, where Raje held the rally, is also the home district state party unit chief Satish Poonia, considered Raje's rival and who organised the protest. Poonia said to help youth demanding justice from the State government, the BJP would hold a series of protests from March 15.
Those close to Raje said she had raised the matter of "indiscipline and state leaders disrespecting her" with the party leaders, specifically pointing out that the Salasar event was planned a month ago, and the party unit shouldn't have had the protest against exam leak on the same day. But while there is no denying of Raje's charisma, it is clear that the BJP's central leadership is yet to take a call on the party's poll plan in the state and is letting its leaders from the state flex their muscles and prove a point or two to their detractors themselves.
Meanwhile, to not let the perceptions of a divide in the party fester, the BJP quickly sprung into action on Saturday and asked party's Rajasthan in-charge Arun Singh to go to wish Raje in the evening with party office bearers. Singh also there in Poonia's protest that had other party leaders such as Rajendra Rathore who is the deputy leader of opposition.
Singh, speaking to reporters in Salasar, said there was no rift in the party, and that both events—Raje's birthday celebration and Poonia's protest—saw large crowds which showed how angry people were with Gehlot's governance.
BJP MP from Churu, Rahul Kaswan, said that Raje is the party's national vice-president, a two time CM of the State and a very popular leader whose birthday celebration was not a recent occurrence. He said two years ago she had celebrated her birthday in Goverdhanji in Bharatpur. "Last year, it was Keshoraipatan and this year, it's at Salasar as party workers want to meet her," he said.
(Updates an earlier version throughout the text with details of Raje's event)