It was billed as a counter to Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra and to corner the ruling Congress in Rajasthan. The ‘Jan Aakrosh Yatra’, flagged off by Bharatiya Janata Party President JP Nadda on 1 December, aimed at presenting a united BJP to enthuse party cadres and the general public ahead of the assembly elections next year.
But a fortnight later, despite the historic mandate in Gujarat, the BJP Yatra has done little to build a public mood against the Gehlot government or to heal the fissures that plague the saffron family in the desert state.
The BJP launched the Yatra with the stated aim to reach two crore people directly and connect indirectly with all eight crore people in the state. But even as JP Nadda kicked off the ambitious outreach campaign to cover all 200 assembly segments of Rajasthan, the public turnout for the high-profile event was dismal.
Despite Nadda flagging off 51 saffron-coloured Jan Aakrosh Raths (Public Anger Chariots) in the presence of former chief minister Vasundhara Raje, state BJP President Satish Poonia, Union Ministers Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and Arjun Meghwal, and a host of party MPs and MLAs, numerous chairs remained vacant in full public glare.
This lack of public support was hotly discussed in political circles and the BJP High Command has reportedly expressed its displeasure over the issue.
Beyond the thin attendance, former CM Vasundhara Raje used the Yatra inauguration to take a sharp dig at her rivals in the state BJP. In the presence of JP Nadda, Raje thundered that state BJP leaders “should go among the public as nothing happens just by being on posters and pamphlets.”
Rajasthan BJP's Poster Politics
Raje's attack was a reminder of the ‘poster politics’ that has plagued the Rajasthan BJP over the past year wherein the former CM was kept out of many posters and hoardings of the state unit. Raje’s pictures are up on Jan Aakrosh Raths but her remarks underlined the bitter rift in the state BJP.
Raje's attack on her rivals was just a precursor to the troubles that were to hit the BJP Yatra in the next two weeks. Incidents of BJP leaders and cadres clashing with each other have emerged from several districts and in one of the worst moments, two senior leaders quarreled on stage at a public meeting in Jaipur.
Eye-witnesses say that former BJP MLA Mohanlal Gupta and Jaipur’s former Deputy Mayor Manish Pareek got into a scuffle over who would speak first at the Yatra event and ultimately Gupta even burst into tears. The ugly scene soon went viral on social media and though the BJP downplays the clash as a friendly tiff, nobody is convinced.
Complaint Against Gajendra Singh Shekhawat
To put the Gehlot government in the dock through the Yatra and create a two-way communication with people, the BJP asked people to lodge written complaints about Congress governance and claims over 15 lakh complaints have been received.
Embarrassingly, however, it’s a complaint against Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat that is creating the biggest buzz. Lodged in Sirohi district, the complaint claims that Minister Shekhawat was involved in a Credit Cooperative Society scam in Jodhpur and asks the state and central governments to ensure that the crores siphoned by this society should be returned to the poor investors who got cheated.
Though complaints from the Yatra are kept confidential, strangely the complaint against the Union Minister got leaked and soon went viral on social media.
How it got leaked from the safe custody of the BJP organization is a key question nobody in the party is answering. Shekhawat and state Pesident Satish Poonia are RSS-backed leaders of nearly the same age and are seen as chief ministerial aspirants.
Earlier, the duo had warm relations but there has been a cooling off recently after Shekhawat reportedly nixed Poonia’s plan for a Padyatra with the help of party bosses. BJP insiders now link the leakage to the bitter Shekhawat-Poonia relations at the moment.
Defeat in the assembly by-poll for Sardarshahar seat further dampened the BJP morale. Despite being held at a time when frictions in the ruling Congress were at their peak, the BJP lost the Sardarshahar by-poll.
The BJP has now been defeated in 6 of the 7 bypolls it has fought since 2018. As in the past, Vasundhara Raje and her loyalists stayed away from campaigning as they believe that by-poll wins would only strengthen her rivals, especially state chief Satish Poonia.
Even as the Jan Aakrosh Yatra continues, Raje loyalists are now planning a grand celebration on former PM Atal Behari Vajpeyi’s birth anniversary on 25 December. Billed as ‘Vijay Sankalp Maha Abhiyan’, the event is another sign of how the Raje camp has little coordination with the official BJP group in Rajasthan.
Having kept a distance from the Jan Aakrosh Yatra, the Raje camp is all set to display her strength and popularity via this event in Kota. The event aims at once again underling their demand that Raje be projected as the CM face for the next elections though the BJP High Command isn’t paying any heed to the exhortations.
The 'Battle' Within
Overall, the squabbles and scuffles among BJP leaders and cadres have hardly enabled the Jan Aakrosh Yatra to turn the heat on the Gehlot government.
Instead, the Yatra has become a victim of factionalism in the Rajasthan BJP where besides Raje and Poonia, a host of leaders are also vying for the top job.
Most district leaders now seem keener to please their patrons in the state BJP and secure their tickets for the next elections than in exposing Congress governance. Given this ‘battle’ within, the Yatra has flopped in creating a strong sentiment against the Gehlot government.
Inevitably, the public response to the BJP Yatra has been rather lukewarm. Far from countering the Bharat Jodo Yatra or cornering the Gehlot government, the saffron Yatra has ignited less of ‘Jan Aakrosh’ (Public Anger) and more of ‘Aakrosh’ (anger) within the Rajasthan BJP.
Though the central leadership wants to contest the next election under collective leadership of the state unit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the face of the BJP campaign, the deep divide in the state BJP is a huge headache.
The Jan Aakrosh Yatra has not just exposed the party infighting but also given warning signs of how maintaining peace among its warring factions in the desert state will be a critical challenge for BJP ahead of polls next year.
(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)