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‘Moderate’ Raje puts Hindutva foot forward as BJP seeks unity in Rajasthan

Vasundhara Raje's Hindutva shift coincides with the jostling for one-upmanship within the state BJP ahead of next year’s polls. It is also as much a surprise for the state as her own supporters.

Written by Deep Mukherjee | Jaipur |
Updated: April 21, 2022 12:42:18 pm
File Photo of former Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at an election rally. (Express Archive)

While the message emerging from the meeting the BJP central leadership had with its senior Rajasthan leaders on Tuesday was of unity, along with an indication that the party would not project a chief minister face, former CM Vasundhara Raje appears to be positioning herself for the role.

In the past fortnight, Raje has adopted a markedly pro-Hindutva stand in targeting the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government, in a shift in her political stance. Her statements followed a visit to Delhi last month, where the BJP national vice-president met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, national BJP president J P Nadda and other senior leaders.

Earlier this month, Raje accused the Gehlot government in Rajasthan of practising ‘appeasement politics’, soon after an April 1 order of Jodhpur Vidyut Vitran Nigam Limited directed 10 districts under its jurisdiction to ensure there were no power cuts in Muslim-dominated areas during Ramzan.

“People in the state are not only observing Ramzan but are also fasting for Navratri in the scorching heat. Why is the state government concerned only about Ramzanis and not other residents?” Raje tweeted on April 5, along with a copy of the order.

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Raje’s Hindutva shift comes at a time when the Rajasthan BJP is witnessing a power struggle, with many leaders hoping to be CM candidate in next year’s polls. (Express Archive)

On Monday, Raje accused the Rajasthan government of neglecting temples, and promised one in every district if the BJP was voted to power. When her party was in power in Rajasthan, she said, they had spent Rs 550 crore on the development of 125 temples and Rs 110 crore on a panorama of 50 gods and goddesses and saints.

Raje’s Hindutva shift coincides with the jostling for one-upmanship within the state BJP ahead of next year’s polls. It is also as much a surprise for the state as her own supporters.

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Raje’s Hindutva shift coincides with jostling for one-upmanship within state BJP ahead of next year’s polls. It is also as much a surprise for the state as her own supporters.

Known to be among the moderate faces in the BJP, Raje earlier stuck to development in her campaign pitch, steering clear of Hindutva. This was seen as one of the reasons for her alienation from the BJP dispensation of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, and her language now might be a bid to close the gap. “I have never heard her talk so openly about Hindus and appeasement. The statements reflect her efforts to once again come to the forefront of the Rajasthan BJP,” said a former member of Raje’s Cabinet.

The two-time CM also had Muslim faces in powerful positions in her Cabinet, including Yunus Khan (2013-2018), who was considered to be Raje’s most trusted aide and the second-in-command in her government. He held important Cabinet portfolios such as the Public Works Department.

In the 2018 Assembly elections, Khan had been denied a ticket from his seat Deedwana in Nagaur district, in what was seen as a snub by the Centre for Raje. He was instead fielded from Tonk, against senior Congress leader and CM contender Sachin Pilot. The only Muslim candidate of the BJP in Rajasthan, Khan had lost by a massive margin.

Apart from the Central leadership, Raje also had frosty ties with senior BJP leaders such as Ghanshyam Tiwari and Madan Dilawar with strong roots in the RSS. After the 2018 elections, Tiwari had floated his own party but was brought back into the BJP in 2020 by state president Satish Poonia, who is also close to the RSS.

The shift in Raje’s political stance was also evident in her statements on the recent violence in Karauli district, where communal clashes erupted following alleged stone-pelting at a motorcycle rally passing through a Muslim-dominated area on Hindu New Year on April 2, leading to arson.

“The Gehlot government…is trying to impose restrictions on Hindu festivals through administrative orders. This won’t be tolerated,” Raje said in Karauli while on a visit to the district in the aftermath of the violence.

A sitting BJP MLA and a former minister said: “Muslim leaders such as Yunus Khan were inducted into the BJP by former CM and vice-president Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. It was a tradition that continued under Raje. The personal image of both Raje and Shekhawat was that of moderates within the BJP. However, with the BJP moving towards more aggressive Hindutva-based politics, the leaders considered moderates are following suit in order to survive in the party.”

Raje loyalists within the Rajasthan BJP insist she was “always committed to the BJP’s ideology”. “We follow the line of action decided by the parliamentary board of our party. Right from the beginning, our party is focused on issues such as Article 370, Ram Mandir and the Uniform Civil Code. Vasundharaji’s mother Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia was an active member of the VHP and was involved in the Ram Mandir movement,” said BJP Chhabra MLA and Raje supporter Pratap Singh Singhvi.

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