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Work harder, help win Rajasthan again — BJP’s message to Vasundhara as it tries to placate her

New Delhi: The BJP has told former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje to be more active in politics, work harder and help it return to power in the state after five years of Congress rule, party sources have told ThePrint.

Since 2018, when the BJP lost the state to the Congress, Raje has been out of the spotlight and has mostly made news for her rivalry with state BJP president Satish Poonia.

But her recent back-to-back meetings with the BJP high command and participation in the oath-taking ceremonies of the party’s CMs in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand have created a buzz about her return in Rajasthan politics in a new role.

She met party chief J.P. Nadda last Tuesday, and PM Narendra Modi the week before, to apprise them about the situation in the state as well as to complain about the Poonia camp, according to BJP sources.

“Raje’s meeting with the top leadership was not a one-way attempt. The high command had called her to know the ground situation in Rajasthan and placate her over the rivalry in the state unit. They also asked for more involvement from her before the polls,” a party source said, adding that it was Modi who gave the signal in Uttarakhand for Raje’s meeting with him in Delhi.

“Nadda told her to be more active in the state while the PM heard her grievances patiently and suggested that she work harder for the return of the BJP,” the source said.

The BJP is already galvanising its cadre for the Rajasthan assembly polls scheduled for late 2023, and is making attempts to send a message of unity to voters by highlighting that a two-time chief minister is actively involved in efforts to oust the Ashok Gehlot government.

Nadda is visiting the state Saturday to participate in a BJP Scheduled Tribes Morcha function in Sawai Madhopur in eastern Rajasthan. This region is where the BJP faced a huge setback in the assembly elections of 2018, when it won only four of 39 seats in this area. In 2013, the BJP had clinched 28 of these seats.

Also read: Raje’s ‘angry resistance’ to Shah’s choice of Rajasthan BJP president delays announcement

A patch-up exercise

The BJP needs Raje as much as Raje needs the BJP to topple the Congress government in Rajasthan. “There is no denying the fact that Raje is the only acceptable mass leader in the state who made a BJP victory possible in 2003 and 2013,” a BJP general secretary said on the condition of anonymity.

Nadda and Shah are also giving more attention to the state, having observed that they couldn’t bring down the Congress government in Rajasthan despite their tacit support to deputy CM Sachin Pilot in 2020, when he rebelled against CM Gehlot. The BJP has also given a free hand to Poonia, but managed to win only one of seven bypolls held since 2018 in Rajasthan.

“Poonia is good organisation man but he can’t drive crowds and votes. The Centre also understands that the Lok Sabha polls and assembly polls are different and Rajasthan is not like other Congress-ruled states where the party is weak and without regional leadership,” the BJP general secretary added.

Meanwhile, Raje’s supporters are demanding that she be projected as the CM candidate, something that the party has refused to do.

Raje herself put up a show of strength on her birthday on 8 March, holding a religious-political rally in Keshoraipatan in Bundi district, which attracted a huge crowd. Despite a subtle warning from the state BJP unit, 42 MLAs and more than 10 MPs attended the birthday programme.

“It is clear to the BJP that ignoring Raje will reduce the party’s chances of a comeback, so Delhi is trying to keep her in good humour. Raje also knows that it’s not 2012 when Gulabchand Kataria had to call off his yatra after she threatened to quit the party,” the BJP leader mentioned above said.

Kataria, who in 2012 was projecting himself as the CM face ahead of the 2013 Rajasthan polls, had to call off his 28-day ‘Lok Jagran Yatra’ following differences at a core BJP committee meeting in which Raje, then the leader of the opposition, threatened to resign from the party membership unless Kataria withdrew his plans. She went on to win the 2013 polls for the BJP with a huge majority.

Even in 2018, Raje had so much clout that then-party chief Amit Shah could not appoint Gajendra Shekhawat as state BJP president, since she was not willing. The bitter feud then lasted four months.

“But the situation has changed in nine years,” the BJP leader said.

Putting up a united front

In December last year, Shah, while addressing the BJP state executive meeting in Jaipur, signalled to the Raje and Poonia factions to work in tandem. He reportedly told the gathering that the BJP must fight elections collectively under the PM’s leadership. The Rajasthan BJP is also promoting ‘Team Rajasthan’ as its buzzword for 2023 to show collective leadership.

“Raje is right now not in a position to make the high command agree to her terms, but she also knows that if the party wins the Rajasthan polls, the chances of her becoming CM are very less. So, this is the best time for her to bargain for more political stature as Delhi needs her help in getting victory,” said another BJP leader who wished to remain anonymous.

The leader, however, added that “it is not clear yet what the BJP high command can offer Raje if not the CM’s chair”.

(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)

Also read: BJP getting battle-ready for Rajasthan; Nadda, Shah to visit this month

Source: The Print

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