On Sunday, as Jaipur observed its 291st foundation day, the mood in the City Palace – home to the descendants of its founder ruler Sawai Jai Singh II – was only ceremonially joyful.
The dampener was a political setback for Diya Kumari, member of the erstwhile royal family and the incumbent BJP MLA from Sawai Madhopur.
In the previous elections, in 2013, Diya defeated the influential caste leader Kirodi Lal Meena, winning what many called an unequal contest. Now, at the end of her debut term, Diya had lost her ticket to another candidate, Asha Meena, for the upcoming assembly elections.
Whether Diya’s term as an MLA made any difference to the people of Sawai Madhopur is a separate debate altogether. It was her tremulous relationship with chief minister Vasundhara Raje that likely got her dropped from the BJP’s list of candidates.
Diya told The Wire she was not denied a ticket. “I had communicated to the party that I will not want to contest the assembly polls due to personal reasons,” she said. “If the party had insisted, I would. I am open to contesting in the parliamentary polls if the party would like me to, or take any other role I am offered.” Read our full coverage of Rajasthan Assembly Election 2018
Contrary to this, sources within the BJP said Diya mounted a strong case for her candidature, saying she had done substantial work in her constituency.
Still, the party decided to accommodate the preference of Kirodi Lal Meena – who had meanwhile re-joined the BJP from his brief career (2008-2018) with the ephemeral National People’s Party.
Kirodi had pushed the candidature of Asha Meena – a former pradhan of Sawai Madhopur and member of the district council – who switched from the Congress to the BJP during the 2013 campaign.
Sources in the BJP say Diya had made a strong case for her candidature on the grounds that she had done substantial work in her constituency. What did not help Diya’s case was her strained equation with Raje, which reached a flashpoint in 2016 during the Raj Mahal Palace controversy. In August 2016, the Jaipur Development Authority sealed the gates of the plush Raj Mahal Palace hotel, owned by Diya’s family, as part of an anti-encroachment drive.
A series of dramatic events followed – beginning with Diya haggling with government officials on the spot; then the erstwhile royal family taking to the streets behind former Rajmata Padmini Devi, with members of the Karni Sena in tow; and culminating in the JDA backing off.
The incident sparked rumours that the JDA action against the Raj Mahal Palace – the property of a former royal and sitting BJP MLA – was a manifestation of Raje’s uneasy relationship with the family.
Ironically, it was Raje who insisted that Diya Kumari enter politics in 2013.
Meanwhile, the BJP is already struggling to address the Rajput ire triggered by denial of a ticket to veteran leader Jaswant Singh in the parliamentary polls. The community’s resentment grew with the encounter of gangster Anandpal Singh and worsened with the row over the film Padmavati. “Diya Kumari not just won a tough seat but also truly delivered as a legislator in Sawai Madhopur, which significantly received more funds from the Centre than the state government. Dropping her has hurt the community and the results will be there for the party to see in the elections,” said founder and patron of Rajput group Karni Sena, Lokendra Singh Kalvi.
Diya Kumari’s political future now hinges on whether the party decides to field her in the parliamentary polls to be held next year.
In arrangement with TheWire.in