In her second stint as the Rajasthan chief minister, even state Congress leaders unofficially acknowledged that Vasundhara Raje cannot be faulted for being short of an agenda and policies. A retired civil engineer, now with the Congress, said, “Left to herself, without outside intervention and interference, she might have set a record for conceptualising and possibly implementing a range of schemes and reforms, imbued with some sort of a vision.”
At the “Resurgent Rajasthan” summit she hosted to attract investors in 2015, Vasundhara claimed that the Rajasthan model of development was underpinned on the “triad of social justice, effective governance and job creation”. So while the “Bhamashah Yojana”—a riff on the Aadhaar card that was named after Bhamashah, an aide and adviser to Maharana Pratap—transferred the financial and non-financial benefits of central and state government schemes directly to women through an eponymous card and the Annapurna Rasoi, modelled after Tamil Nadu’s Amma canteen, served subsidised meals, Vasundhara also executed reforms to unshackle the private sector from an obsolete labour law regime.
“I was amazed by the number of things the government had accomplished. It was a discovery because none of this was propagated on the ground by our workers. No fault of theirs because they were not properly informed and educated about them,” a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) source from Delhi said, adding, “Vasundhara is a good administrator but not an effective politician.”
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Three months before the assembly elections, when BJP president Amit Shah appointed central minister Prakash Javadekar as the Rajasthan “prabhari” (central minder), Javadekar’s first assignment was to “study” and explain the schemes to the party workers and “motivate” them to publicise these among people. BJP sources said Javadekar’s choice was not “unpremeditated”. “He has a good equation with the CM. She knows his family for long. They converse in Marathi that brings an informality to their association,” a source said. Vasundhara and Javadekar go back a long way as colleagues in the BJP’s youth front, the Yuva Morcha. “Javadekar’s choice showed that Shah did not wish to ruffle the CM’s feathers by sending someone she might not have approved of,” another source said.
With Javadekar, vice-president and Rajya Sabha MP Om Prakash Mathur was tasked to “re-activate” the workers and straighten out the BJP organisation but also advised to function “discreetly”. Vasundhara never got over the suspicion that in his earlier stint as the Rajasthan general secretary, Mathur, who hails from Pali, had allegedly foiled her comeback in the 2008 election. “The state organisation was in limbo, there was no coordination between the party and government,” a source said, blaming the former Rajasthan BJP president Ashok Parnami for the “enforced paralysis” that enfeebled the party.
Parnami was Vasundhara’s man to run the BJP. “The organisational election he presided over was a farce. Instead of party functionaries, he made the CM’s favourite legislators the BJP’s fulcrum. They had the organisation in their pockets and freely appointed their people in the micro subsets. A proposal to make the MLAs report directly to central observers, deputed by Shah, was shot down by the CM,” a state BJP source said.
After endless wrangling between Vasundhara and Shah, Parnami was replaced with a “consensus” candidate, Madan Lal Saini, a Rajya Sabha MP who, like Congress leader Ashok Gehlot, belongs to the backward Mali caste. Saini’s appointment was dressed in the colours of “Mandal and social justice” to cap the Vasundhara-Shah dispute.
During the ongoing elections, Shah augmented Delhi’s presence at the Rajasthan BJP headquarter and a specially created media centre on 16, Civil Lines, housed in the residence of Diya Kumari, Sawai Madhopur MLA and the daughter of the last Maharaja of Jaipur, Sawai Bhawani Singh. Diya was denied a ticket allegedly at the behest of local heavyweight, Kirori Lal Meena, who she had defeated in 2013 when he contested from the National People’s Party. Subsequently, Meena merged his entity with the BJP and is projected to bring the votes of his tribe. But in 2016, Diya fell out with Vasundhara after the Jaipur Development Authority sealed the main entrance to the family’s Raj Mahal palace. The CM refused to intervene when Diya’s family wanted her to.
General secretary P Murlidhar Rao helps out the resident general secretary (organisation), Chandrashekhar, who won Shah’s confidence and trust when he micro-managed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Varanasi election. Another vice-president Avinash Rai Khanna is a fixture as are national secretary Tarun Chugh and Delhi leader Ashish Sood, Shah favourites.
Six months ago, the BJP was written off as a has-been, after it lost certain prestigious by-polls. It was then that Shah started to batten down the hatches by revving up the organisation. However, in the crucial area of selecting the candidates, he apparently conceded space to Vasundhara. “We were given to understand that Shah wanted many of the 163 MLAs dropped to buck anti-incumbency,” a Rajasthan Congressman said. Vasundhara put her foot down. “A majority of the MLAs are loyal to her. If they were out, she would have lost her clout. For argument’s sake, if the BJP loses, Vasundhara can still survive and hope to be the Opposition leader only if she has her MLAs with her. That alone will ensure her relevance,” noted a Jaipur political observer.
Regardless of the verdict and whether the BJP wins or loses, the next round of the battle of attrition between Delhi and Vasundhara, at work ever since Modi was installed as the PM, will begin after December 11.