With some like the BJP MLA Sheo Manvendra Singh quitting the party and joining Congress in Rajasthan, incumbent CM Raje has an uphill task ahead.

Rajasthan Assembly Elections: How Will Raje Tackle BJP Defections?

TheQuintOpinion

Vasundhara Raje has passed the ‘ticket distribution test’ with flying colours. Her writ runs large in the Rajasthan BJP, as Raje has clearly trumped BJP National President Amit Shah who was at loggerheads with her on the issue of distributing party tickets.

The two lists and 162 warriors the BJP has so far fielded for the electoral battle, are packed with Raje loyalists.

Reposing Faith in BJP’s Old War Horses

Besides other calculations, a prime reason for ignoring Shah’s plan to drop a large chunk of sitting MLAs was to prevent a possible revolt that might be ignited if too many MLAs were sidelined. By reposing faith in the party’s old war horses, Raje hoped to scuttle any threat of sabotage by leaders denied party tickets. But that hope has been belied as over a dozen MLAs and some Raje Ministers have openly defied the party in the past few days.

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The first to raise the banner of revolt was Surendra Goyal, the PHED minister in the Raje Cabinet and a five-time MLA who quit the party after he was dropped in the first list.

After resigning, he blamed the RSS for his ouster and said :

The party has betrayed me. The RSS is angry with me only because I refused to be a sycophant. But people in my constituency are my strength and with their support, I will now fight as an independent.
Surendra Goyal, a BJP Rajasthan defector

BJP’s ‘Meena’ Vote Bank Jolted by Harish Meena’s Defection

Many soon followed Goyal’s example, causing a mini-rebellion within the BJP’s ranks. Among the most prominent names to quit the party is the MP from Dausa, Harish Meena.

A former DG Police in Rajasthan, Harish Meena moved to the Congress which is keen to counter the influence of Kirori Lal Meena, a strongman of the tribal Meena community who recently re-joined the BJP and was made a Rajya Sabha MP. The Meena tribe plays a crucial role in over 30 seats of eastern Rajasthan. But with Harish Meena switching to the Congress, the BJP’s desire to woo this major votebank has been crushed.

Sidelining Muslims Won’t Help BJP in Rajasthan

Another major leader who has deserted the BJP is Habibur Rahman, the 5-time sitting MLA from Nagaur who was denied a ticket under the reported BJP plan not to field any Muslim candidates. Rahman has promptly joined the Congress which may now make him a party candidate. Sidelining Muslim leaders seems to be a part of the hardcore Hindutva agenda being set by the RSS. This is also an attempt to push further the politics of  polarisation that the BJP has pursued in Rajasthan in recent years.

Ironically, even Raje’s closest aide in the Cabinet, PWD Minister Yunus Khan, does not figure even in the BJP’s second list.

Word has it that he may finally be ‘sacrificed’. Many are closely watching to see, if despite getting a decisive say, Raje will be able to swing a ticket for her favourite – despite the obvious but unstated RSS plan to deny tickets to all Muslim leaders, along the lines of Uttar Pradesh.

Protests by other BJP leaders and cadres have erupted in over a dozen districts since the first list was released. The party office in Jaipur has seen multiple rounds of angry protests, slogan shouting and heated exchanges. A large contingent of policemen has been deployed around the clock to ensure security of the BJP HQ in Jaipur.

BJP Party Workers Feel Betrayed

Besides dropped Ministers, MLAs and their supporters, much of the party cadre is also upset with the ticket distribution – albeit, for a very different reason. For years, most of them have nursed grievances against their local MLAs and ministers, and were hopeful of change – given Amit Shah’s original plan to drop a large number of current MLAs and bring in new faces.

All through 2018, these party workers were pacified by hints that over half of the BJP’s sitting 160 MLAs would be dropped. But with the leadership now shying away from replacing too many MLAs, party cadres are miffed.

A ticket aspirant in Jaipur echoes the anger of many party workers : “Why did our party bosses hold surveys at different levels if their results were to be ignored? When surveys in most areas went against local MLAs, it’s pointless to field them. Leaders who promised to change everything in this election, have betrayed us.”

Internally, there are growing worries, but overtly Raje claims the protests will soon be checked. For the moment, the desertion of major leaders and anger among party cadres is spoiling the ‘atmospherics’ for the BJP, as Raje bids to retain power in Rajasthan. As a steady stream of leaders quit their posts and the party, Raje’s task is far from easy.

A Strong Leader With a Demoralised Cadre

Vasundhara may have won the showdown with Shah and dominated the process of choosing BJP candidates, but as protests escalate in Rajasthan, her is challenge is getting tougher.

The BJP has decided to sink or sail with Raje, and hopes her charisma and mass connect will over-ride the anti-incumbency created in the past 5 years.

Whether this gamble woos voters, will be clear only when results get declared on 11 December. As it enters the battlefield, the BJP has a powerful lady-general but a cadre that's far from being charged up.

(The author is a veteran journalist, and expert on Rajasthan politics, who served as a Resident Editor at NDTV. He is currently a professor of journalism at the University of Rajasthan, and head of department of mass communication. He tweets at @rajanmahan. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)