It’s not unusual that a party in power takes time to appoint the state president. In Rajasthan, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has gone without a president for nine days, as BJP President Amit Shah and Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje have failed to agree on a mutually acceptable candidate.
What has surprised many, is the turn of events over the last few days, and the manner in which Raje has showed her defiance against a decision that has the backing of the powerful BJP national president Amit Shah and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leaders.
Ever since, Ashok Parnami, a staunch Raje loyalist, resigned from the post of party chief on 18 April, Jodhpur MP and Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekawat’s name has been doing rounds as a front runner for the party’s top post in the state and has created a stir in the BJP.
It has put an end to the grapevine of cabinet reshuffle that was doing rounds in the political corridors after the bypoll loss. Raje baiters had floated the formula of a deputy CM and caste balance in wake of the loss, but that is all history now.
Her defiance and the outcome of this tiff will have defining implications in the state politics and elections that are due in November 2018.
CM Raje’s Clout & Implications of The Internal Party Tiff
Firstly, it gives CM Raje an opportunity to tell the opponents in her party that she is still the boss when it comes to the desert state. After the party’s dismal show in the three by-elections, where it lost in all the 17 assembly segments and suffered a humiliating 3-0 defeat, there were voices emerging from within the party seeking change of guard. With this act of defiance, she has managed to put those voices in place.
Secondly, it forces one to think why is the BJP taking her snub and not going ahead with Shekhawat?
The reason could be that she is still the most popular face the party has in the state.
One can’t discount the fact that in 2008, despite Gujjar agitation and the loss of lives just five months before the election and a rebellion within the ranks, she still managed to get 76 seats.
It allows the party’s high command to weigh in their options, as now they clearly know who in the state machinery’s rank and file stands where. In the last decades, no incumbent government in the state has come back to power, and the one that comes to power has the upper hand in Parliamentary elections that are six months after the assembly elections.
For BJP to retain the government in the state is an uphill task, this logjam provides time to take a tough call looking at the future prospects.
Shekhawat’s Entry Likely To Rejuvenate RSS Cadre, Stray Away Anti-Incumbency
If Raje fails to get a party president of her choice, it would further strengthen the subtle message from the top brass that she is not going to be the party’s face for 2018 polls. The induction of the rebel Meena leader Kirori Lal Meena in the party, who left BJP in 2008 opposing Raje, none of the three candidates who were sent to Rajya Sabha from Rajasthan post the bypoll debacle are her preferred faces.
With Shekawat as the party chief, RSS would have their candidate at the helm aiming to rejuvenate their cadre, which largely stayed away from the bypolls.
If Shekawat enters the fray it would intensify the battle for Rajasthan due in November 2018. He would get the RSS going and will convey the high command’s message that Vasundhara Raje won’t be the next CM.
Many in the party believe that the loss in bypolls was due to people’s anger towards Raje, and if she is not the face they still have a chance in assembly elections.
The tiff has also given the opposition an opportunity to take a dig at the BJP and state government.
Congress state President Sachin Pilot over the last few days has missed no opportunity to take a shot at the BJP. In his public meetings, he has said to the cheer of the crowds that no one in the state BJP is willing to take the position, as they know their days are numbered and no one wants to take the blame.
Well, the opposition too is watching the move closely as the outcome will define if the November 2018 assembly elections will be a walk in the park for them in case the RSS doesn’t get a president of its choice, or will they have to toil hard.
With no name emerging after Raje and Shah’s meeting on 26 April in Delhi, people in the know of things say Raje has been able to do the unthinkable by delaying the decision, but final call would be what the centre wants. They cannot afford the embarrassment of going on a back foot in a state on which its 2019 plans hinge.