From a student leader in the late 1970s to becoming a personal troublehooter for two Rajasthan chief ministers and later a cabinet minister,BJP leader Rajendra Singh Rathore had come a long way until he was arrested in the Dara Singh fake encounter case last week. The man who was once poised to become the tallest leader of Rajputs in Rajasthan may now find it hard to wash off his taint.
The CBI says Dara Singh was killed as a result of rivalry between liquor smugglers in Churu. It says Rathore and Singh supported rival gangs,and Singh had threatened to kill Rathore. Rathore says he is innocent,and accuses the Congress of political vendetta.
Rathore gained considerable fame in the late 1970s and through the eighties as a student leader at Rajasthan University. He first entered the assembly on a Janata Dal ticket from Churu. When the JD ceased to exist,some of its leaders went to BJP,the others to Congress.
BJP leaders say Rathore caught the eye of the late Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. In 1993,Rathore contested on a BJP ticket and became a junior minister in Shekhawats ministry, said a BJP leader. Shekhawat took Rathore under his wing and mentored him. He soon became the chief ministers personal troubleshooter within the BJP.
In 1998,Rathore was among the only 35 BJP leaders who beat the rout and won. In the opposition,his was among the loudest voices.
When the BJP returned to power in 2003 under Vasundhara Raje,Rathore became her closest adviser.
He was trained in parliamentary procedures under Shekhawat,what more could one ask for? a senior BJP leader said. However,the RSS remained staunchly against both Raje and Rathore.
Raje made Rathore cabinet minister for parliamentary affairs and also gave him the powerful public works department porfolio. It was during this time,the CBI believes,that Rathore conspired with the police to have Dara Singh eliminated on October 23,2006.
When the Congress returned to power in the elections of 2008,Rathore was made the BJP chief whip because of his experience in house matters.
Currently a BJP MLA from Taranager in Churu district,Rathore is considered good at handling crises. During Rajes five-year tenure,he helped quell the farmer uprising in Garsana and Ravla in north Rajasthan,as well as the violent twin Gurjjar agitations in Rajasthan in 2007 and 2008.
Rathores proximity to Raje was put to the test late in 2009 following her feud with the then BJP president Rajnath Singh. While the latter had asked Raje to resign for the partys defeat in the 2008 polls,she refused and was summoned to Delhi. During this time,it was Rathore who was credited with keeping the state unit largely intact and it was he who organised a march to Delhi supporting Raje. Rathore was suspended from the BJP for anti-party activities.
Earlier too,during the cold war between mentor Shekhawat and leader Raje,Rathore had managed to keep both sides happy. He was in a tight spot. Though he was clearly on Rajes side,he somehow managed to maintain his association with Shekhawat till his death, a BJP leader stated.
Now lodged in Jaipur central jail under judicial custody,Rathore must feel satisfied about at least one thing: realising his importance as a state-wide leader,the entire state BJP his detractors in the RSS included has now unanimously rallied behind him.
Rajasthan BJP in a bind as Assembly polls near
With is high-profile MLA Rajendra Singh Rathore behind the bars in the Dara Singh fake encounter case,and the Assembly elections only a year away,the Bharatiya Janata Party is walking a tightrope in Rajasthan. While distancing itself from Rathore can affect the partys Rajput vote bank,supporting him may annoy Dara Singhs Jat community.
The BJP will have to play its cards smartly, said a senior BJP leader. We have to support him (Rathore) since he is a leader and close to Vasundhara Raje,but not to the extent to annoy the Jat community,to which Dara Singh belonged, he said. Though the BJP has other Rajput leaders,they are mostly low-profile and confined to their own pockets.
According to political experts,this precarious situation has the BJP protesting against Rathores arrest in an oblique manner. While condemning the government of carrying out a political vendetta,the BJP has invoked other controversies in the state to register their protest,including the Bhanwari Devi case,the communal clashes in Bharatpur,and the state and central governments using the CBI as a tool.
Meanwhile,Rathores arrest has given the ruling Congress a little breathing space to offset the damage that the Bhanwari Devi case caused. Former cabinet minister Mahipal Maderna,a veteran Jat leader,is presently under arrest for Bhanwaris abduction and murder,which the Jats have decried. Rathores arrest may just convince the Jat community to stay with the party, said a senior Congress leader.
Senior leaders in both parties said Rathores arrest would cripple the BJPs tirade against the ruling party and that the BJP would sorely miss his articulation in the ongoing budget session.