Bumpy Road Ahead For Raje
The BJP hopes to reap rich political dividends by bringing Vasundhara Raje at the centre stage in Rajasthan politics, but things will not be easy for the saffron party this time. The Congress government has done several good things, including the free medicine scheme and the prestigious Jaipur Metro project, which it can showcase before the electorate
With the appointment of Vasundhara Raje as state unit president once again, the rank and file of the Bharatiya Janata Party has been galvanised in Rajasthan. With her pan-Rajasthan presence, the party hopes to unseat the Congress holding its forte in the state since 2008 under the stewardship of Ashok Gehlot. With state going to polls by the end of this year, the BJP sniffs victory again like 2003, riding the popularity of Raje.
However, the road ahead for the saffron party is not easy. The Congress government has several credits to its name, including the free medicine scheme, Jaipur Metro and chief minister BPL Awas Yojana. The BJP till now is a house divided and Raje will have an uphill task to restore unity in the party.
The mood in the BJP is, however, upbeat this time especially after Maharani’s appointment as state party president and there has been renewed enthusiasm in the party workers. But to bring party back into reckoning will not be an easy task for her this time. There has been lots of changes since she has been out of the hurly-burly of state politics. Besides making the party organisation strong, she will have to take with her all the prominent leaders of the state unit. She had successfully led the party in 2003 polls, but only time will say whether she will repeat that feat this time or not.
Raje will have to accommodate senior leaders at every level. Besides accommodating dissidents, she will have to make her bond stronger with the RSS in ramping up the state unit organisation. In the meanwhile, she has made a good beginning by meeting Ghulab Chand Kataria and other senior leaders.
Though there has been other parties in the fray, including the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Janata Dal (United), in Rajasthan, it is the contest between the Congress and the BJP that has been deciding the polls outcome in the past. Till 1990, there was the presence of Janata Dal in the state, but with the efforts of the late Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, the Janata Dal was merged with the BJP by 1995 and some of its leaders also joined the Congress, leaving the Dal virtually defunct in the state. The former BJP stalwart and now independent MP from Dausa, Kirori Lal Meena, who had left the party due to his differences with Raje in 2008, has now been trying to enlist the support of other castes, besides having a strong base in the Meena and other tribes. He has been trying to raise a third front in the state away from the BJP and the Congress. He has been a force to be reckoned with in Sawai Madhopur, Dausa, Karauli and the Meena-majority areas in the state. He is now trying to make inroads into the Mewar and the Bagad areas, besides garnering the support in Bhil Meenas. If he succeeds in his attempts, the BJP may be a loser in that scenario. The party should take his challenge seriously this time.
Castes play a major role in Indian politics and Rajasthan is not an exception to this hard reality. Here Rajputs, Jats and Gurjars play a leading role in deciding the outcome of elections. Kirori Lal Meena had damaged the BJP’s electoral fortunes in the last assembly elections and the party fared badly in Tonk, Sawai Madhopur, Dausa, Baran, Chittorgarh and Dungarpur. Gurjar leader Kirori Singh Bainsla has, too, left the BJP on the reservation issue in the past. Both Bainsla and Meena have been attacking the Congress and the BJP in their rallies. While Gurjars have traditionally been BJP supporters, Meena, too, in the changed scenario do not feel happy with the saffron party. In Rajasthan, Dalits, tribals, Brahmins, Gurjars, Jats and Muslims with 17.09 per cent, 12.51 per cent, 9.48 per cent, 4.6 per cent, 10.02 per cent and 8.50 per cent respectively, can well tilt the scales in favour of any party and every political party scrambles to be in their good books.
With the death of Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, the BJP has lost its grips over the Jats and the Rajputs. It is not easy for anyone to step into the shoes of leader like Shekhawat, but the BJP has to make conscious efforts to bring back the groups traditionally considered close to its ideology in the past. In 2003 polls, when out of 24 Rajputs fielded by the party, as many as 18 romped home. But in 2008 state assembly polls, out of 30 Rajputs fielded by the party, only 16 won polls.
Meanwhile, the Congress has broadened its base among the Rajputs by inducting Bhanwar Jitendra Singh and Chandresh Kumari in the Union Cabinet. On the other hand, there does not appear many good Rajput leaders in the BJP armoury to counter the Congress in the state.
While traditionally, the Jats were supporters of the Congress, but with Mahipal Maderna and Malkhan Singh cooling their heels behind bars in the Bhanwari Devi case and resentment among the Bishnois against the Congress, things will not be easy for the Congress either. While Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has been looking for second generation leaders in the Jat community, the BJP should also make its presence felt in other castes, only then can it hope to reap rich electoral dividends.
In the last Assembly polls, the BJP suffered in the Mewar and the Hadoti areas. It is a good news for the party that Kataria is sent to the state assembly from the Mewar region, while Raje wins her assembly seat from the Hadoti region. If both the leaders galvanise the rank and file of the party, these regions may go a long way in installing the BJP government in the state. It may be recalled that the party had won 12 Assembly seats out of 17 in the 2003 polls in the Hadoti region, while it bagged only 7 in the 2008 assembly polls. Similarly, in the Udaipur region, the BJP had won 21 seats out of 28 seats in 2003, while in 2008 Assembly polls, it won only 6, giving a body blow to the party’s efforts to form the government in the state. Needless to say, the party will have to leave no stone unturned to make its base stronger in both the regions, crucial to form the next government.
Amid all these things, there has been resentment in the common man against the Gehlot government in the state. The rising prices and the rampant corruption have dented the image of the Congress government. It appears that the Congress government has been on its last leg, but only time will tell how the BJP makes the most of situation in the days ahead. In politics, a week is considered a long time and assembly elections are still several months away.
By Shankar Agarwal & Rajesh Kumar Jha from Jaipur