Jaipur: Former chief minister Vasundhara Raje, once the face of the Rajasthan BJP, is conspicuous by her absence these days as a power shift takes place within the party. However, Raje’s supporters have taken to social media to pitch for her as the BJP's CM face for 2023.
A private group called ‘Team Vasundhara Raje 2023’ has been created on Facebook with the stated objective of bringing the BJP to power in 2023 with Raje as the chief minister. It has 39,000 members and was formed in May 2020.
Raje’s supporters are also becoming active on social media and putting out messages to see their leader as chief minister once again. These campaigns are seen by analysts as trying to convey to the party high command that Raje still has large scale support in Rajasthan.
Since the BJP’s defeat in the 2018 assembly election, Raje’s influence is seen to be waning within the party. She is rarely seen or heard in party circles. After appointment of Satish Poonia as state BJP president in 2019, she has attended only a handful of party meetings.
Raje who was chief minister in 2003 and 2013 and once called the shots in the government and the party, is rarely consulted by the new leadership that is being promoted by the party high command in the state.
Analysts say the party high command and the RSS which shared an uncomfortable equation with Raje wants to cultivate a new leadership to end the party’s dependence on Raje who remains the BJP’s most popular leader.
The younger leaders being elevated such as Poonia, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, Om Birla, Diya Kumari, Kailash Choudhary and Arjun Ram Meghwal are all backed by the RSS.
Raje’s opposition was also overlooked when the BJP went ahead and tied-up with Hanuman Beniwal’s Rashtriya Loktantrik Party ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Beniwal was once a BJP legislator but quit the party over differences with Raje. The Nagaur MP has been a vocal Raje critic and attacked her publicly on several occasions. He had also accused her of helping to save chief minister Ashok Gehlot’s government during the political crisis.
Beniwal’s threat to quit the NDA if the farm laws were not repealed gave a chance to Raje’s supporters to hit out at him.
A group of Raje’s supporters including Pratap Singh Singhvi, Bhawani Singh Rajawat Prahlad Gunjal and Om Prakash Nandwana dared Beniwal to quit the NDA. They also wrote to union home minister Amit Shah asking him why Beniwal was being tolerated and that the NDA should sever ties with him. They said he had insulted Raje on several occasions which was not acceptable to the party.
However, Raje has not exactly endeared herself to Shah and prime minister Narendra Modi and has few friends in Delhi now.
Ahead of the 2018 assembly elections, she vetoed Shah, who was then BJP national president, on the appointment of Jodhpur MP and union minister Gajendra Shekhawat as state BJP president.
It was also alleged that Raje tried to work against party candidates who were not from her camp in the assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
Raje had also lobbied for her son Dushyant, who is MP from Jhalawar, for a cabinet berth in prime minister Narendra Modi’s government. But he was overlooked to accommodate leaders such as Shekhawat, Choudhary and Meghwal.
Given this background, Raje’s sidelining came as no surprise. However, politics is the art of the possible. And Raje and her supporters seem to believe that.
Analysts say Raje is known to be a fighter and will not give up easily. She is biding her time even as she is meeting leaders and supporters from the state to keep in touch with the ground situation and strike when the time is right.
Pratap Singhvi said it is no secret that several MLAs want Raje to be CM.
“The party high command also knows that she has large support in the party and they cannot disregard her. But the assembly elections are still far away. We have to wait and see what decision the high command will take,” he said.
Bhawani Singh Rajawat, a former BJP MLA said Raje is still the most popular and charismatic leader of the BJP. “Raje is a two-time CM and she has proved her ability as a capable leader and administrator. She is in the race for CM.”