Raje Calling the Shots in Rajasthan May Hurt BJP in 2019

Madan Lal Saini’s appointment to BJP’s Rajasthan unit asserts Vasundhara Raje’s supremacy.

3 min read
Image of Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje used for representational purposes.

Vasundhara Raje rules. At least for the time being. The 74-day stand off between Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and BJP National President Amit Shah finally came to an end on Friday with the BJP appointing Rajya Sabha MP Madan Lal Saini as its state unit head.

The name has taken many by surprise – a sizeable number of people in the state and elsewhere watching this development must have googled Saini’s name. I certainly did.


Raje’s Sway Over Rajasthan

The 74-year-old veteran who has been elected as MLA just once in his career, has managed to get the hot seat. This hot seat necessitates that the person who occupies it must ensure that the party gets 100 seats in December, to be able to retain power. This will, no doubt, prove to be a daunting task for Saini – his performance remains to be seen. His elevation to this position however, makes a few things clear:

Firstly, it asserts Vasundhara Raje’s supremacy in Rajasthan. It puts to rest all speculations of a ‘change of guard’ or the emergence of an alternative power centre in BJP’s Rajasthan unit.

No amount of pressure from the High Command could topple Raje’s will to prevent Union Minister and Jodhpur MP Gajendra Singh Shekawat from making an entry.

From the word go, Raje made it clear that she would not allow new leadership to crop up, even if it meant her having to make peace (albeit temporarily) with leaders she doesn’t get along with – her meeting with Rajya Sabha MP Om Prakash Mathur was one such instance.

Secondly, this move has left the party workers confused, as the BJP has been emphasizing on young voters, and going all digital, but its new party president in Rajasthan is from a bygone era – and his mindset can pretty much be summed in his statement to the media: “will try learn and adapt to the new era.”

Well, a little over four months is certainly not enough time to learn these new ways.

Who is Madan Lal Saini?

In a political career of four decades, Madan Lal Saini has managed to win an election only once and has a less-than-impressive political CV. In 2008, Saini stood fourth in the MLA elections, and has lost parliamentary elections twice. Being nominated to the upper house earlier this year is perhaps his only saving grace.

Third, the BJP’s justification (for selecting Saini) – for being a soft-spoken and honest leader – is pretty weak. The Rajput voters may not have taken the escalation of Shekhawat’s name and then revoking it, too well, as they have anyway been miffed about gangster Anandpal’s encounter and the Padmaavat row.

Even the theory – that Saini is an OBC and belongs to the same Mali community that Ashok Gehlot hails from and would challenge him in the ‘caste wars’ – doesn’t hold ground.

Ask anyone who knows anything about Rajasthan politics and they will tell you that there is no challenge to Gehlot when it comes to the small three percent Mali votes in the state.


No New Face to Turn To

Fourth, this entire saga over two months has put the central leadership in a weak spot, despite the by-election and local poll debacles, – they could neither stamp out the CM nor get a leader of their choice into the state unit which would have potentially boosted the morale of party workers.

With Raje facing anti-incumbency, such a lacklustre move makes it clear that Raje will lead the party into the elections, with no new face for the supporters to root for – that is, if they win miraculously, defeating the usual anti-incumbency trend.

On my way to work at around 2 PM, I could spot some cars and SUVs outside the BJP office, but couldn’t spot the number of workers to match the cars. I asked a couple of workers chatting outside the office, “has the new president taken charge?”

“Not yet, but what difference will he make?” came the reply.

This explains which way the BJP is headed this December.

(The writer is founder of @journalism_talk. He tweets @avinashkalla. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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