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‘As a generation changes, a new leadership comes… no one should have objection to that’

With the party’s state unit running into a controversy every few months, BJP state president, Satish Poonia, tells Hamza Khan why it is so and looks back at his 18 months at the helm.

Written by Hamza Khan | Jaipur |
Updated: March 12, 2021 10:31:04 am
Satish Poonia. (Express Photo)

You are completing one and a half years as the BJP state president, what have been your biggest challenges?

The biggest challenge was coronavirus. Just before the virus, I had moved in about 30 districts and 140 Assembly constituencies. And just when I picked up pace, the virus struck. Since I am from the organisation, I try to ensure that our organisation works at the grassroots; this was interrupted by coronavirus.

Generally, it is assumed about political parties that they are electoral organisations. However, I am happy that we were able to show the social side of BJP. For example, BJP workers provided ration till the grassroots – our food packets reached about 1.5 crore people and we provided dry ration kits to about 80 lakh persons. As many as 2.65 lakh citizens of the state as well as BJP workers also contributed to the PM Cares Fund.

The second challenge was local body elections. Generally, in Panchayati Raj elections, the incumbent government in the state gets the benefit. But for the first time, we managed to win 14 out of 21 Zila Parishad seats – thanks to our party workers.

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Third, our frontal organisations had a limited role and at many places, they did not even have an organisation at grassroots. My dream is to see that our frontal organisations work at every booth with the same intensity as the party.

But the BJP did not perform as well in urban areas.

The basic reason is delimitation. One ward has 180 and the other has 1,800 [voters] in the same city. Undoubtedly, Congress succeeded on account of delimitation. Second, we are already weak in eastern Rajasthan – we just have one MLA in Dholpur, among all the 17 seats — and are focusing on that.

Also, BJP has had an ideological vote in urban areas but due to delimitation and wards getting smaller, our people fought amongst themselves and there was indiscipline. So, Congress benefitted from division of votes. However, it doesn’t mean that Congress has achieved something. Out of 90 Urban Local Bodies, Congress didn’t have a majority in 71 – it had a clear majority only in 19 while

BJP had a clear majority in 25. Also, the difference in wards won by BJP and Congress was only around 50.

There was a political crisis in the state last year and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot managed to tide over it. In hindsight, how do you see the crisis?

When the present government was constituted, this was the second time Ashok Gehlot did not get a clear majority. The other time was 2008-13, when there was a similar situation. They have a ‘jugaad’ ki sarkar, which is never stable. The [2018] elections was fought by that party [Congress] on the aspirations of two people – Sachin Pilot was an aspirant but he [Gehlot] is a veteran and had a good approach with the party high command and became the CM.

The weakness of their party high command is clearly visible here, that in 2.5 years, they have not been able to patch up or control the situation. That has affected the governance in the state. So, many issues are pending because the focus has been on saving the [CM] chair. They had said there will be a cabinet expansion and political appointments in January – now it’s March. And seeing their unhappy MLAs or ex-minister – Ramesh Meena for example – indicates that things are not well and behind the curtains, the resentment continues. So, when there’s a weak government, the possibility of mid-term polls increases.

Why do you think the rebellion in Congress last year did not succeed?

Ashok Gehlot is soaking in the praise of saving his government, but the fact is that the party is broken and his government almost fell. Even today, the party has not been repaired entirely.

As the PCC president, Sachin Pilot was responsible for tickets to a lot of persons, who went on to become MLAs. Behind him, there’s immense contribution by a big caste. And it cannot be denied that Sachin Pilot had a big contribution in formation of the government. His community, traditionally said to be supporting BJP, supported Congress.

The government was saved because it’s a numbers game. Sachin Pilot was unhappy but he did not have enough MLAs. Poore hotey toh Madhya Pradesh ho jata, poore nahi hue to Rajasthan ho gaya.

Who will be BJP’s CM face in Rajasthan?

There’s a mixed phenomenon: some elections are fought with a face and some without. In Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, we did not have a face. Our [state] in-charge and senior leaders have said before that in Rajasthan, the party high command will take a call at an appropriate time. The good thing is, earlier it was said that BJP has a leadership crisis in Rajasthan. Today, geographically and socially, the party has competent leadership.

In the last few elections, it was pre-established that Vasundhara Raje is party’s CM face. So this is the first time in many years when it isn’t so.

As a generation changes, a new leadership comes. No one should have an objection to that. And our high command is capable of deciding these things.

Recently, Vasundhara Raje Samarthak Manch was in the news. You had said then that the party’s leadership would take a call on it. So, has any decision been taken on it yet?

I believe that it is not a very serious matter for us, because politicians have followers who run fan pages. So all these things are on social media; you don’t see anything on ground. It is in their [party’s central leadership] notice and if something serious is found, then the Centre is capable enough to intervene.

There was also a ‘Samarthak Morcha’ in your name.

It only appeared that day, and then what happened to it later, I don’t know [laughs]. I don’t know who the president or other [members] of the Morcha were. I searched for it later and found that it was all fake. I am not in favour of any Morcha, be it in my name. Because we already have a huge forum in the form of a party, and we all have to work on it.

The former CM had a ‘bhakti – pradarshan’ on her birthday, where they claim 9 incumbent MPs and 31 MLAs, among others, participated. Do you think it was okay to organise such a programme other than within the party?

The party high command will decide whether it was uchit – anuchit (appropriate-wrong). I don’t think there’s a need to see it with a political angle, it was her programme, and those who wanted to go, went, and those who didn’t, didn’t go. I don’t think there was a need to highlight it with a political angle, because she has been celebrating her birthday since long, and so do I and our other leaders.

The Assembly session was on when the programme was organised on Monday, March 8.

Some people went on the 8th. Neta pratipaksh ne unko paaband kiya tha, baat karenge unsey (Leader of Opposition [Gulab Chand Kataria] pulled them up, will talk to them). He had asked them to be present in the House since important issues were to be discussed.

Ever since you assumed charge as party state president, the internal differences within the party have increased. Recently some MLAs wrote to you claiming that they are not getting enough chances to speak in Assembly.

Zyada sakriyata hogi to vivadon mein aayegi (When there’s increased activity there will be controversies). Also, there have been attempts to counter the division in Congress with that of BJP. But in reality, there is a difference.

As for the letter, it didn’t have a lot. Those things could have been said verbally. The only error was that it was released on social media and went to the media. They [the MLAs] had merely said that they don’t get an opportunity to speak through an adjournment motion. When the Leader of Opposition researched, it was found that among the 20, as many as 13 had not even moved the motion. It was a complaint of only 2-3 people where 20 persons participated. It was not that big an issue as it was made out to be.

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