State BJP president Satish Poonia
State BJP president Satish Poonia

Jaipur: The four assembly by-polls to be held in Rajasthan will be a test for state BJP president Satish Poonia as the party grapples with power struggles and leadership tussles.

Assembly by-polls are to be held in Sujangarh, Rajsamand, Sahada (Bhilwara) and Vallabhnagar (Udaipur) after the deaths of the sitting MLAs in the last five months. The dates for the polls have not been announced but they are likely to be held in March.

Poonia, who became state party chief in September 2019, has yet to prove his mettle. The BJP performed well in the panchayat polls in the state but fared poorly in the urban local body polls.

Analysts say the task on hand is not easy given that the rift within the party may play spoiler and the ruling Congress will have an upper hand. The BJP is working hard to manage caste equations and strike a chord with voters by highlighting failures of the Congress government.

Poonia has not been able to forge unity in the party with former chief minister Vasundhara Raje being more or less sidelined after the 2018 assembly polls.

Sources say that the party high command has asked Poonia to focus on performance and to take everyone along in the party.

It was no wonder that Poonia had kind words for Raje as he launched the party’s campaign for the Sujangarh seat in Churu district by offering prayers at the Salasar Balaji temple.

Asked about former chief minister Vasundhara Raje’s absence from the campaigning, Poonia said the party will make use of distinguished leaders as and when required.

Denying any rift within the party, he said Raje will be giving her services to the party during the by-polls. Poonia said Raje had kept away from the civic body polls and the panchayat elections due to the coronavirus pandemic but now she will be active in the party.

He said the party will go into the polls on the back of the welfare policies and work done by the Modi government. “We will win all the by-polls because of the policies and the work done by the government of prime minister Narendra Modi,” he said.

The power struggle within the BJP has been evident since some time now. Raje has increasingly been sidelined in the state party unit where she once called the shots.

She has found her face missing from posters during party campaigns and her detractors are being taken back in the party, pointing to the growing distance between her and the state leadership which has seen newer, younger contenders.

Recently, some supporters of Raje launched a new outfit called Vasundhara Raje Samarthak Rajasthan Manch demanding that she be the chief ministerial face of the party for the 2023 assembly polls.

The by-polls are being held due to the demise of minister Bhanwarlal Meghwal from Sujangarh constituency, Sahada MLA Kailash Trivedi of the Congress, BJP MLA Kiran Maheshwari from Rajsamand and Congress MLA Gajendra Singh Shaktawat from Vallabhnagar.

With the death of the four MLAs, the strength in the 200 member assembly stands at 196. Congress has 104 MLAs, BJP has 71, CPIM has 2, Rashtriya Loktantrik Party has 3, the Bharatiya Tribal Party has 2, the Rashtriya Lok Dal has 1 and there are 13 independents.

(To receive our E-paper on whatsapp daily, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)

Free Press Journal