Rajasthan Bypolls: Vallabh Nagar Battle Will Shape BJP’s 2023 Game Plan
Vasundhara Raje and Gulab Chand Kataria are head-to-head over the choice of a candidate.
With the Congress government enjoying a comfortable majority in the state, the two Assembly by-elections in Rajasthan would be just a routine affair of electoral jostling between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the first glance. But the course of the next one week, starting from October 1, would decide the course for the Rajasthan BJP.
The Election Commission of India (EC) has announced an election schedule for three parliamentary constituencies and 30 Assemblies across 14 states on September 28. In Rajasthan, by-elections would be held at the Vallabh Nagar Assembly seat in Udaipur and Dhariawad in the Pratapgarh district in the southern region, Mewar.
Swords Are Crossed Over BJP Ticket
Factionalism in the Rajasthan BJP is an open secret. On one hand, former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje is waiting for the opportune moment to prove herself as the only one eligible to lead in Rajasthan, while on the other, BJP state organisation led by party unit chief, Satish Poonia, is leaving no stone unturned to inculcate a generational change.
Vallabh Nagar's by-election is all set to become the ‘Battle of Thermopylae’ as Raje is pushing for the name of Randhir Singh Bhinder for a BJP ticket from the seat. Gulab Chand Kataria, the leader of opposition in the Rajasthan Assembly and the senior-most leader from Mewar, has already announced that Bhinder has no chance to come back in the BJP fold.
Earlier, the district committee of the BJP in Udaipur, chaired by Gulab Chand Kataria, had passed a resolution that Bhinder should not be made party candidate.
The rivalry of Kataria and Bhinder is akin to folklore in the Mewar region, and it was the reason that Bhinder formed Janata Sena, his own outfit, to fight an election against the BJP in 2013 and 2018. The BJP’s official candidate stood at third place in Vallabh Nagar in 2018 due to the triangle created by Randhir Singh Bhinder, while Gajendra Singh Shaktawat of the Congress went on to win the seat. The by-elections are being held as Gajendra Singh Shaktawat had succumbed to COVID-19 infection eight months ago.
Randhir Singh Bhinder A Trump Card for Raje?
Sources say that Bhinder, along with his wife Deepender Kanwar, has met Raje thrice in the last six months. Vasundhara Raje is pushing for Randhir Singh Bhinder to be made the BJP candidate from Vallabh Nagar for the by-election. Raje is aiming at two targets with one stone as she wants to keep the flamboyant Bhinder belonging to the influential Rajput community in Mewar in her fold, while cutting down Gulab Chand Kataria to size in his own home turf.
Randhir Singh Bhinder has an image of a street fighter in Mewar. Bhinder had arrived on the political scene of Mewar in 2003, when he defeated Congress veteran Shakatwat by 41,511 votes on a BJP ticket.
He had unsuccessfully contested against Gulab Chand in the 1993 and 1998 elections. Vasundhara Raje had taken over the reins in Rajasthan in 2003 for the first time as Chief Minister. In 2008, he lost to Gajendra Singh Shaktawat by a margin of 6,660 votes.
Later, Bhinder fell out with Vasundhara Raje and formed his own outfit – Janata Sena. He fought the election in 2013 as an independent candidate under the banner of Janata Sena and won the seat with a thumping majority, while the BJP stood a distant third with 21,579 votes. In 2018, he fought as Janata Sena candidate and stood second again.
The Rajput community is already angered with Gulab Chand Kataria over his statement on Maharana Pratap during the election campaign in the Rajsamand by-election earlier this year. In addition, with a recent comment on Lord Rama not going down well with BJP supporters, Kataria is on a slippery wicket in Mewar. Vasundhara Raje is seeing this as an opportunity to prove her might and connection in the BJP network to give a message of being numero-uno in the Rajasthan BJP.
Battle Lines are Drawn
As per the schedule given by the Election Commission, the nomination process in the Vallabh Nagar Assembly constituency would start from October 1. Thus, the BJP would have to decide the party candidate within one week's time till October 8, which is the last day of filing the nomination. The Congress is comfortably placed with Priti Jhala Shaktawat, wife of deceased MLA Gajendra Singh, a candidate to take advantage of the sympathy wave.
However, it is the BJP that would have to churn out a candidate amidst the rivalry of Kataria and Bhinder and Vasundhara Raje playing for her advantage. Kataria is pushing the name of Udai Lal Dangi as the candidate from Vallabh Nagar.
If Randhir Singh or Deependra Kanwar are fielded as BJP candidates from Vallabh Nagar despite open opposition of Gulab Chand Kataria, the by-election would set the course for the 2023 Assembly election in Rajasthan. And, if not, Vasundhara Raje would find herself on a slippery slope.
One of the shining knights of the BJP is set to fall in the battle of Vallabh Nagar. Whether that would be veteran Gulab Chand Kataria or Vasundhara Raje would be decided by the Parliamentary Board of the BJP, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself.
(Arvind Singh is a senior journalist based in Jaipur. He tweets @DrArvind_Singh. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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