Lalit Modi row: State BJP hedges bets on Vasundhara Raje

Most prominent leaders said that they wanted to see the 'new equations' develop within the party and 'posture' themselves accordingly.

Written by Sweta Dutta | Jaipur | Updated: June 19, 2015 2:23:33 am
Vasundhara Raje, Lalit Modi, lalit modi row, raje lalit modi row, Sushma Swaraj, lalit modi controversy, lalit modi travel row, lalit modi uk travel controversy, lalit modi raje controversy, Rajasthan bjp, amit shah, Narendra Modi, Sushma Swaraj resignation, india news Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje with former IPL commissioner Lalit Modi during an IPL match in Jaipur in 2008. (Source: PTI Photo/file)

In the absence of explicit support from the BJP high command, Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, who finds herself embroiled in the Lalit Modi storm, is being cold-shouldered by top leaders even in the state BJP unit.

Except for two official spokespersons, most prominent leaders contacted by The Indian Express either refused to go on record or refrained from commenting on the issue altogether. Everyone denied any official gag order, but all maintained that they wanted to see the “new equations” develop within the party and “posture” themselves accordingly.

A party veteran also rubbished rumours that 30 MLAs were headed for New Delhi in support of Raje. “I doubt there are as many sitting MLAs who would risk it simply for the sake of winning her favour. The RSS will never bat for her,” he said.

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The Indian Express tried to contact Cabinet ministers Yunus Khan, Arun Chaturvedi, Vasudev Devnani, Gulab Chand Kataria, Kalicharan Saraf, and Speaker Kailash Chand Meghwal, but they either refused to comment or did not respond to repeated calls or messages.

Health Minister and official government spokesperson Rajendra Rathore was among the few to back her. “The entire BJP state unit backs CM Raje. All the MLAs fought the elections under her and she will remain our leader,” he said.

Raje held her official meetings at the CM’s Office on Thursday, though she has been avoiding public functions since the controversy emerged. On Friday, Raje will attend the 350th foundation day of Anandpur Sahib in Punjab where she will share the stage with Home Minister Rajnath Singh and BJP national president Amit Shah.

On Thursday evening, Raje’s office circulated the invite sent to her by Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal, seen as a bid by her to underline that the party high command did not cold-shoulder her. Minutes later, another official press statement said Raje would attend the event.

Justifying the state unit’s silence over Raje, a prominent BJP legislator said, “Nobody wants to stick their neck out for Raje right now.
They might have to backtrack their statements later and it might draw the ire of the party high command. It is too big a risk to take. The Raje-Modi ties were well known, not only within the state but also in Delhi.”

The Rajasthan leader also recalled his brief meeting with Modi at the Rambagh Palace Hotel, where the latter is known to have retained a suite during his prolonged stays in Jaipur. “He was like a permanent fixture in the state and bureaucrats often complained they had to work under his instructions. Lalit Modi is privy to more than what he has divulged and I have a feeling there is much more to come.”

A minister during Raje’s first tenure, who is now an MLA, said this had been a disaster in waiting. “We had raised our voice against the goings-on even then, but we were sidelined. We always knew Modi would be her undoing,” he said. Another senior legislator said, “If those enjoying positions of responsibility and belonging to her coterie are not coming out in her defence, then why should the rest?”
Leaders also saw bad news for Raje in the elevation of party veteran and arch rival Om Mathur to the post of national vice-president.

Mathur is supported by the RSS and is considered close to PM Narendra Modi.

Among those who spoke in her support, state BJP president Ashok Parnami said Raje had made it clear that she was not aware of the documents being circulated in the media. “She has clarified that she knew the family (Modi’s) but is not aware of the documents being talked about. As for Dushyant Singh, he is not in the country and once he comes back, he will explain his position,” he said. Refuting rumours that BJP chief Amit Shah had declined to meet her, Parnami said, “It is not true that Amit Shah refused to give her an appointment.”

By the end of the day, Raje had at least two very uncanny supporters — one, a vocal dissenter, who wanted to remain anonymous, and the other, a nondescript party worker. “The problem in officially backing her is that we do not know the antecedents of the particular issue. I have decided to call the CM up and ask her about it, so that we can at least take an official position. There is no doubt that there is a political vendetta and by that I am not hinting at the Congress,” said the dissenter.

The party worker, who has gone out full throttle to back Raje is a 35-year-old office-bearer of the IT cell of the party, Vaibhav Agarwal. Few noticed him until Agarwal was seen defending Raje vigorously on news channels. “I have worked under her and completely trust her.

I also know Lalit Modi very well. I do not need to check with her (Raje) on the issue. If anyone says anything against our parents, do we take it lying down or question them? She is like a mother to me. We must remember we are talking of the queen who is posh and well-educated,” said Agarwal. “She cannot go wrong.”

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