As political events unfold at a rapid pace in Jaipur, the main figure in Opposition BJP has been keeping a calculated distance. Unlike in neighboring Madhya Pradesh, where a similar political drama led to BJP replacing the Congress government and the party had Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and senior leaders in the loop for negotiations, Vasundhara Raje Scindia, former Rajasthan CM and tallest BJP leader in the state, has been missing in action in the developments in Jaipur.
Instead, the developments have seen Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, whose appointment as state party chief Raje had opposed in the past, as the face and voice of Rajasthan BJP.
This led to the Congress targeting Shekhawat, and the party accused him of being part of a conspiracy to topple the Ashok Gehlot government. Shekhawat has denied having any role.
A source close to Raje said she did not want to be part of the developments since the party leadership “did not keep her informed about the events, nor did they have any discussions with her”. According to the source, she did not want to take “credit” for disrupting the government, as she “would not like to take the blame if it does not see positive results”.
Raje’s absence has been conspicuous. Although the BJP had scheduled a core committee meeting earlier this week in which Raje was expected to participate, she skipped it. While her absence from the scene triggered some whispers in the party, Hanuman Beniwal, an MP of NDA ally RLP, publicly alleged that Raje was trying to save the Gehlot government.
About Beniwal’s allegation, Shekhawat told The Indian Express, “I do not know any such developments.”
Sources in BJP said that like in MP, where the party is keen to bring up a fresh set of leaders to succeed fourth-term CM Chouhan, the party wants a new leadership to emerge in Rajasthan, another political and ideological bastion of the saffron party.
In MP, recent developments and negotiations had seen engagement of senior leaders Narendra Singh Tomar –– seen as a potential CM – and Narottam Mishra, who the party is said to be keen to see as a top leader, along with Chouhan. Both Tomar and Mishra were present in late-night discussions with BJP national president J P Nadda and Home Minister Amit Shah ahead of senior Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia joining the party, the Cabinet expansion, and portfolio distribution by the new Chouhan government.
Both also played a key role in bringing in 21 MLAs with Scindia to the BJP fold.
Besides, reports that the Sachin Pilot camp is seeking nothing less than the post of CM for him puts Raje in an unenviable position. Consider the break-up of MLAs: 88 Congress legislators are with Gehlot, and of those elected on BJP ticket around 45 were on Raje’s recommendation. Pilot, in comparison, is said to enjoy support of only 18 others.
Then there are those within the BJP who nurse ambitions, former Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria seen as being one.
In an interview to ‘Rajasthan Patrika’ on Thursday, Pilot had alleged that Gehlot was busy saving Raje rather than fulfilling promises made by the party. He had cited how Raje was still living in a government bungalow despite a High Court order against it.
Reacting to Pilot’s claims, former BJP MLAs Kailash Meghwal, who is also a former Assembly Speaker, and Pratap Singh Singhvi, said that the bungalow is “allotted to her in the capacity of a senior MLA. The bungalows of this category are allotted by various governments to various senior MLAs.”
Leaders close to Raje point out that she has been a CM twice, a five-time MLA, Leader of Opposition, a Union minister and a five-time MP to back her claim as a “senior MLA.”
On September 4 last year, the High Court had held as “void” a 2017 amendment which provided former CMs — for the remainder of their lives – a government residence, a car, telephone and a staff of 10. However, the Gehlot government filed a Special Leave Petition in Supreme Court against the High Court’s order, which was dismissed.
The matter is still pending in HC.
When the government sought more time for compliance at a hearing in January, RLP MP Beniwal had said, “Gehlot-ji, you are continuously insulting the people of Rajasthan, the Supreme Court and the High Court. For a particular person you have mortgaged the spirit of administration and democracy….”