If one thought that it’s only the Congress which is a divided house in Rajasthan, they are mistaken. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) too has factions within, with the internal fights so bitter that the former Chief Minister of Rajasthan Vasundhara Raje’s pictures have not found a place even on the new posters placed outside the state BJP headquarters.
What many feel is that this must be for the first time in over 20 years that the two-time chief minister, who presently is also the BJP’s national vice president, is being “chastened” in such a manner.
The state president of the BJP, Satish Punia tried to defend it by saying: “Whose picture will be displayed in the hoardings, it is decided by the central committee of the party, it is not decided by any leader. Such changes keep happening.”
However, Raje’s absence on the posters has not gone down well with the large number of supporters that she has.
Raje’s Unquestionable Popularity
Raje’s popularity can be gauged from the fact that when her birthday celebrations were organised in March this year in Rajasthan’s Bharatpur and Goverdhan in Uttar Pradesh, hundreds of present and former MLAs, several MPs, and hundreds of party workers attended it.
As per the available information, over 34 of the existing 72 Rajasthan BJP MLAs (almost 50%) and 12-13 MPs both from Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha from the state were present at the event, several without any formal invitation.
It was undoubtedly a show of strength and she was able to make it clear that despite the state leadership’s alleged efforts to sideline her, she still commands support and popularity in Rajasthan.
A Transformed ‘Maharani’
Like any other politician, she is disliked by many but Raje’s charisma, stature, and popularity in Rajasthan are unquestionable.
In her two stints as the chief minister from 2003-2008 and 2013-2018, many disliked the way she functioned, attributing her “arrogance” to that of a “maharani”.
However, lately, there are visible changes in her conduct — she is more easily approachable, willing to mingle, and take necessary feedback from party workers who she has started meeting more regularly than before.
During the second wave of COVID-19, she created a Twitter account @officeVRaje, which helped several patients in distress to get beds, blood, injections, and oxygen. Her supporters ran ‘Vasundhara Raje Rasoi’ in all 33 districts of Rajasthan to provide free food to the needy during the lockdown in the state, which still continues in several districts despite relaxations.
What has changed Raje? Her opponents feel this is being done to create a brand name and to revive her popularity.
In reality, Rajasthan politics of today revolves around two politicians — Ashok Gehlot from the Congress and Vasundhara Raje from the BJP.
Even during the 2018 Assembly elections in Rajasthan, while several political analysts predicted a complete washout of the BJP from the state, the party was able to put up a tough fight under her leadership against the Congress and was able to win over 70 out of the 200 Assembly seats in the state.
Several think that whenever Raje has not been able to campaign, the BJP has suffered massive losses in Rajasthan. In the 2019 local body polls, the BJP’s performance was not satisfactory. Similarly, in the recently held by-polls, the Congress was able to increase its vote share from 41 percent in the 2018 Assembly polls in three constituencies going to by-polls, to over 51 percent. Why? The answer, according to several political pundits is simple — because Raje did not campaign.
The BJP looks fragmented in Rajasthan as of today. Raje is that leader who can keep the party united and put up a tough fight against the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government in the state, which has gained popularity by Gehlot’s effective and efficient handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
It is a known fact that not everything is hunky-dory between Raje and the central leadership. But looking at her popularity in the state, she needs to be given charge much before the next Assembly polls due in November-December 2023, if the BJP wishes to perform better.
As one of her supporters summed it up: “You can remove her from the posters, but you cannot remove her from our hearts.”
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