Updated: December 3, 2021 4:00:08 am
Raje, who stayed away from the campaign for the October 29 bypolls, set off on a five-day yatra between November 23 and 27, covering eight districts, most of them in the Mewar region.
Raje has not campaigned in any of the eight bypolls held since the formation of the Congress government in Rajasthan in 2018. Of the eight seats, the BJP has won only one seat on its own, another seat was won by its then ally, Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP), while the party lost in the remaining six constituencies. Five of these eight seats were held by the BJP plus its ally, while three were held by the Congress. The Congress wrested Dhariawad, Mandawa and Ramgarh from the BJP, while retaining Vallabhnagar, Sahara and Sujangarh.
After the recent losses in Dhariawad and Vallabhnagar bypolls, where the BJP was relegated to third and fourth positions, respectively, former home minister in Raje’s government and current Leader of Opposition Gulab Chand Kataria had said, “Dekho, star pracharak ye to ek waise hi naam chal pada hai. Main sochta hoon isse pehle wale teen chunav hue, usme Vasundhara ji kahan gayi thi (See, star campaigner is just a name. There were three elections before this (Dhariawad and Vallabhnagar), where was Vasundhara ji then)?” he said.
Officially, Raje’s excuse for her absence has been the poor health of her daughter-in-law. However, she has largely stayed away from poll campaigns and meetings of the party’s state unit ever since Satish Poonia, a first-time MLA, was appointed BJP state president in September 2019. Poonia is backed by the party’s central leadership, which, sources said, is keen on having its pick as state CM in the event of the BJP coming to power in the 2023 elections.
However, Raje has been making her presence felt – by staying away. The message she has been sending out is that she won’t report to a parallel leadership in the state. The other signal that she seeks to send out — borne out of the bypoll losses for the party — is that the party needs her if it wants to do well in Rajasthan.
With the scales tilting in her favour after the party’s bypoll losses under Poonia’s watch, Raje has timed her re-emergence with the yatra – marked by visits to the homes of party leaders and their kin who died in recent months – to assert that she is still indispensable in the state BJP and in Rajasthan. Among the BJP leaders who accompanied Raje during her visits were MLAs Gopi Chand Meena, Kailash Meena and Harendra Ninama, who missed the motion of confidence in the Rajasthan Assembly during the political crisis in the state last year.
Part of Raje’s visit in the Mewar region covered the bypoll constituencies where the party had lost just three weeks earlier — Dhariawad is in Pratapgarh while Vallabhnagar is in Udaipur. Moreover, Leader of Opposition Kataria also hails from Mewar and is considered the party’s tallest leader in the region.
Kataria had said about Raje’s “condolence meetings”, “It is considered courteous to visit families of those who have passed away and it is very good that she (Raje) is going. But if she had done this earlier, there would have been a greater significance to it… Going after such a long time has passed, it is resulting in something which creates doubts among people.”
While Poonia became seemingly reticent post the latest bypoll losses, Raje has indulged in the headlines. Between November 23 and 27, she attended about a dozen condolence meetings and visited temples. She covered nearly a fourth of the state with her visits to Chittorgarh, Udaipur, Banswara, Rajsamand, Bhilwara, Ajmer, Jodhpur and Pali.
While the condolence meets were for former party leaders, she didn’t skip any major temples along the way: Sanwaliya Ji temple (Chittorgarh), Tripura Sundari temple (Banswara), Charbhuja temple (Garhbhor), Shrinath Ji temple (Nathdwara), Ekling Ji temple (Udaipur) as well as Ajmer dargah, among others.
Raje, however, said her visit is not political and that she is merely paying respects to the departed leaders. “There are still two years for the elections. I have come to share the pain of the people. I could not meet my own due to Covid and the serious illness of my daughter-in-law…this should not be associated with politics.”
In Bhilwara, she brought up the subject of the bypoll losses to subtly attack Poonia, saying “winning and losing are two sides of a coin” and quoting former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee to say that the lotus (the BJP symbol) will bloom “but by working on the ground; not merely by slogans, statements, speeches and talking in the air.”
Gehlot and other Congress leaders in the state have often dismissed Poonia’s comments as “hot air” and lacking in depth.
Raje also underlined that “a BJP worker is one who doesn’t take pride in their post but becomes even more humble.”
During Raje’s Ajmer visit, a local newspaper carried an advertisement by a Raje supporter that said, “Poonia bhagao, Bhajapa bachao (Shunt off Poonia, save BJP).” During the same visit, Ajmer South MLA Anita Bhadel too indulged in sloganeering for Raje as the next CM. A former minister in the Raje government, Bhadel is also the party spokesperson in the Poonia-led state unit.
Poonia, however, downplayed Raje’s assertion, telling The Indian Express, “It is the Congress and media which publicises this (factionalism in the party). Compared to the Congress, BJP has no factionalism because people discuss the issue of leadership and our Central leaders and the Parliamentary Board have already spoken on the issue of leadership. When the time arrives, the Parliamentary Board will decide.”
With the party wracked by factionalism, Union Home Minister Amit Shah is scheduled to visit Jaipur on December 5 – his first visit in nearly three years to the state Capital, since the formation of the Congress government in December 2018. He will address a meeting of the state executive and address party representatives and workers.
(With inputs from Deep Mukherjee)
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