While the BJP has never missed an opportunity to point towards factionalism in the Congress and has consistently cornered the Rajasthan government over the tussle between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot, lately the Congress too has found a way to launch a counter-attack by pointing towards factions within the BJP.
The reports of a factional war within the BJP have been strengthened by several developments: known detractors of former CM Vasundhara Raje being appointed to plum posts, assertions by Raje’s supporters that she is still the tallest leader in the state, and social media pages and groups in favour of a few senior leaders — including Raje, state BJP president Satish Poonia, Union ministers Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and Arjun Ram Meghwal — asking that they be made the CM candidate for the 2023 Assembly polls. All this while the central leadership of the party is having increasing say in matters of the state unit.
While BJP leaders have been publicly silent on their aspirations on holding the top post, Rajasthan CM Gehlot has repeatedly attacked the opposition by saying that its leaders are competing with each other.
Earlier this week, Raje found an unlikely supporter in Congress MLA and Rajasthan Industries Minister Parsadi Lal Meena, who said that the BJP in Rajasthan “is zero without Vasundhara-ji”. “If the BJP neglects Vasundhara ji, the BJP will end up with a lot of misery. In Rajasthan, the Congress is incomplete without Ashok Gehlot and similarly, the BJP is incomplete without her,” Meena had said in Dausa district.
The Congress leader’s statement drew a sharp parallel with BJP bigwigs in the state who earlier hit out at the Congress for “not rewarding” former Deputy CM Pilot who worked hard to revive the party in Rajasthan before the 2018 polls.
State BJP chief Poonia, who had distanced himself from a social media group in his favour, calling it an act of “mischief”, pointed out that his party’s situation is very different from Congress. “There is a difference in BJP and Congress because our organisation is not divided. The Congress used to say earlier that there were no chief ministerial faces in BJP and today they say there are tens of chief ministerial faces. This is a positive thing for us. We have faces according to topography and social engineering,” he told The Indian Express.
Ever since the Raje-government was voted out of power in December 2018, her detractors within the BJP have got more say, including important posts within the party organisation.
In recent times, there have been instances when Raje’s name has been missing from posters of events of the state BJP, fuelling rumours that all was not well between her and the state leadership of the saffron party.
Last month, the BJP welcomed back to its fold senior politician and former MLA Ghanshyam Tiwari, who was a strong critic of Raje and had left the party over differences with the former CM. BJP MLA Madan Dilawar and MP Diya Kumari who are known to be in the anti-Raje camp were also made state general secretary of the party during appointments to the state executive committee last year.
“The party benefits if it listens to its elders. I heard someone say that there is no need for big faces. But without big faces, you cannot easily win any election. In today’s date, in the BJP in Rajasthan, there is no other person with more fan following than Vasundhara-ji, who is the tallest leader,” said Pratap Singh Singhvi, six-time BJP MLA from Chhabra in Baran district.
Considered to be a close confidante of Raje, Singhvi said he hasn’t been entrusted with any responsibility by the state leadership of the BJP at present.
BJP sources say that apart from Shekhawat and Meghwal, some of the leaders whose names have been doing the rounds in political circles as potential CM candidates include Poonia, leader of opposition Gulab Chand Kataria and deputy leader of opposition Rajendra Rathore.
Party insiders say that one of the reasons for several leaders of the BJP nursing chief ministerial ambitions is the fact that for the first time in three decades, owing to an immensely strong central leadership of the party, the state unit is coming out of the shadow of regional leaders with towering personalities.
“The state unit of the BJP in Rajasthan was always under the shadow of leaders such as Vasundhara Raje and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat who didn’t let parallel power centres come up and sidelined those opposed to them. Even the central leadership of the party had to listen to them in most matters. But now, this has changed,” a senior state BJP leader from the anti-Raje faction who is also close to the RSS told The Indian Express on condition of anonymity.
Satish Poonia said it is the parliamentary board of the BJP that decides who will be the chief minister.
However, supporters of Raje, who still has a strong following among the 72 BJP MLAs in the state, have an ominous warning. “Senior logon ki avhelna hi dukh degi (the neglect of seniors will give pain),” said MLA Singhvi.