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Palace to Politics: The Trajectory of Diya Kumari, Rajasthan's Deputy CM

A two-time MLA and one-time MP, Kumari may be a popular face and her appointment will satisfy the Rajputs.

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The sight of Diya Kumari, the newly-crowned deputy chief minister (CM) of Rajasthan, taking oath in the presence of Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi, was reminiscent of an occasion twenty years back, when Vasundhara Raje, another former royal, was sworn in as the state's CM in 2003.

Two decades on, two-time former CM Raje — ignored by the present BJP leadership for the top post — watched from the sidelines the rise of her former protege, with whom she now shares a shaky relationship.

The 52-year-old Kumari, who belongs to the erstwhile royal family of Jaipur, is the BJP's answer to Raje; the latter was handpicked by former Rajasthan CM and Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat to take the baton from him and lead the state.
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Soon after taking charge as the deputy CM, the two-time MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) and one-time MP (Member of Parliament) said that the people of the state have expressed faith in the party, and so the government will try to shoulder the increased responsibilities.

While Kumari thanked the people for expressing their trust in the BJP, she also attacked the previous Congress government for an increase in crimes against women, the deteriorating law and order situation, and the state's poor financial condition.

During her election campaign, Kumari had made a pitch for environment, education, healthcare, and women's empowerment. In 2019, she was elected to serve as the government's National Tiger Conservation Authority member.

Winning by a Record Margin

Kumari is the granddaughter of Sawai Man Singh II, the last ruling Maharaja of the princely state of Jaipur. During her election campaign, she was portrayed as a "daughter of Jaipur" and the "princess who walks on the streets." The combination of royalty and a down-to-earth approach made her a popular figure among the people of Rajasthan.

In the last decade, Kumari has won all three elections that she has contested. Her maiden entry was in the 2013 assembly polls when she became an elected MLA from Sawai Madhopur. In 2018, she did not fight the assembly polls and contested the 2019 Lok Sabha polls from Rajsamand and won with a huge victory margin of 5.51 lakh votes. In 2023, she won from the Vidyadhar Nagar constituency in Jaipur against Congress' Sitaram Agarwal with a margin of 71,368 votes.

Interestingly, what is worth noticing is that while the constituencies kept changing in Kumari’s political timeline, what remained constant was the massive margin of votes with which she swept the polls.

The thumping margin is also reminiscent of her step-grandmother and former queen of Jaipur, Gayatri Devi, who got elected as an MP from the Jaipur constituency thrice — in 1962, 1967, and 1971— representing the Swatantra Party. She would also win by record margins.

Kumari’s late father, erstwhile royal and Brigadier Bhawani Singh, had also contested from the Jaipur constituency in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections on a Congress ticket, but he lost to a BJP candidate.

What Made Her the BJP’s Choice?

While the present BJP, under PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, avoids nurturing strong party leaders in any state, it has made a calculated exception for Kumari, who is the most recognised face among the two others who were sworn in with her — newly-appointed Rajasthan CM Bhajan Lal Sharma and minister Prem Chand Bairwa, another deputy CM.

The choice of Sharma as the CM is in congruence with the BJP's strategy of appointing lesser-known leaders, close to the RSS with negligible support of their own on the ground, to top posts. It keeps the rein firmly in the hands of Delhi and avoids grooming politicians who can overrule the central leadership's decisions. For example, back in 2018, Raje had put her foot down when the central leadership wanted to appoint Gajendra Singh Shekhawat as the state BJP president. She successfully managed to stall the move.

On the other hand, while Kumari may be a well-known face and her appointment will help the BJP to satisfy the Rajputs (traditional voters of the party in Rajasthan), there is little chance of her becoming a separate power centre like Raje.

In the 2018 polls, the Rajput community’s anger had also contributed to BJP’s loss in the assembly polls. The three episodes that became a reason for the Rajput community to vote against the party were:

  • The release of the Bollywood flick Padmawat which, according to them, screened distorted facts about Rani Padmawati

  • The encounter of gangster Anandpal Singh in 2017

  • The protests by the Rajputs in 2016 against the sealing of the Raj Mahal Palace

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Shaky Relations With Raje

The sealing of the Raj Mahal Palace also became a confrontational incident between the Raje and the Diya. In 2016, when the Jaipur Development Authorityof the Vasundhara Raje-led BJP government sealed the main gate, the incident made it to the front page with Diya’s mother Padmini Devi leading a rare protest rally over the issue.

Kumari, who was then a sitting MLA, stayed away from the protest. However, the rally received massive support from several Rajput outfits such as the Rajput Sabha and Karni Sena. Kumari’s son, Padmanabh Singh, also participated in the rally.

But despite the 2016 episode, Kumari has refrained from commenting publicly against Raje or any other state BJP leader.

Kumari’s importance in the BJP camp has increased after 2019. She was made general secretary in the party’s state executive and vocally addressed press conferences against the Congress government, and even led protests in Jaipur and other cities.

With parallels drawn with former CM Vasundhara Raje, who is from the erstwhile Gwalior ruling family in Madhya Pradesh, and married into the erstwhile royal family of Dholpur in Rajasthan, Kumari is considered a potential top leader in party circles. But one thing makes her different from Raje.

Unlike Raje, who has supporters across Rajasthan, Kumari draws her strength from being in the good books of the central leadership. The fact that despite nursing chief ministerial ambitions, she has been made one of the two deputy chief ministers in Rajasthan indicates that the party will not change its strategy of appointing low-profile CMs.

Nevertheless, it is a big victory for Kumari to become the proverbial second-in-command in the state within a decade of being brought to politics by her former mentor — Raje — back in 2013.

(The author is a journalist based in Rajasthan reporting on politics, gender, human rights, and issues impacting marginalised communities. She tweets @tabeenahanjum.)

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