In September 2017, a farmers agitation started out in the Shekhawat region of Rajasthan. The 13-day long movement gave rise to a slogan that large parts of the state would soon catch on to, ahead of the Assembly elections. “Modi tujh se bair nahin, Vasundhara teri khair nahin (no enemity with Modi and no regard for Vasundhara),” had been travelling across the state heightening tensions about the fate of the BJP’s incumbent chief minister.
Raje held the chief ministerial position in Rajasthan since December 2013 when her party won 163 of the 200 Assembly seats. Previously, she had held the same position back in 2003 when she also became the first-ever woman chief minister of the state. Raje’s political career can be traced back to the 1980s when she joined the BJP.
The recent elections, however, were crucial for setting public image in a state that has been torn between support for her and that for her party. As the results showed, the popular vote went against her as the Congress emerged as the party with the largest number of seats in their favour.
Born in the royal family of Gwalior, Raje is the daughter of the Rajmata of Gwalior Vijaya Raje Scindia, a heavyweight in India’s political history. Being a member of the Scindia family meant both royalty and politics were part and parcel of Raje’s growing up years. After completing her education from Mumbai, she married Maharaj Rana Hemant Singh of the Dholpur royal family of Rajasthan in 1972. But she broke off the relationship approximately a year later after the birth of her son, Dushyant Singh. Soon after though, she stepped into a political career in Rajasthan that spanned across decades and turned her into one of the most powerful women leaders in the state.
In 1984, Raje joined the BJP and was made a member of the National Executive of the party which was then just four years old. The following year, she won the Dholpur Assembly seat. In 1987, she became vice-president of the BJP in Rajasthan and in 1997 she became joint-secretary of the party. In 1989, she made her debut as a Lok Sabha member and continued to retain the seat till 2003 when she was made the chief minister of Rajasthan. Between 2003 and 2018, Raje has continued to remain the face of the BJP in the state despite having lost power in 2008.
In the days preceding this year’s elections, she has received stiff opposition from a section of her party apart from facing competition from a revitalised Congress that appears determined to oust BJP from power. Back in 2008, when she lost out in the state elections, the criticism against her were almost the same as the grievances against her today — the fact that she is too arrogant and not approachable for party members. Also, the RSS feels ignored by her.
On a different note, farmers’ distress in Rajasthan has not yet been checked despite the multitude of programmes that she started and claims to have executed. Schemes such as the Bhamashah Yojana for the financial empowerment of women, Mukhya Mantri Jal Swavlamban Abhiyan (MJSA) aimed at tackling water scarcity, Grameen Gaurav Path Yojana for better road connectivity, and the establishment of Annapurna stores to ensure food security are some of the highlights of Raje’s five-year rule in the state.
During her campaigning in the state, much to the surprise of BJP leaders, Raje was undeterred in her confidence to retain power. Despite the three embarrassing losses in the recently held bypolls in the state, that shook the confidence of her party, Raje remained grounded in her conviction, confident of the work she claims to have sleeplessly carried out in the state in the past five years. The opposition remained strong, however, and so was the anti-incumbency factor in a state that has not voted for the same party in two consecutive terms for the past several decades. In the end though, Raje’s confidence failed to bear fruits as popular mandate favoured the opposition party.