Raje’s ‘Betrayal of Rajputs’ Spells Win for Jaswant Singh Family
The personal and political are intimately linked in the long-standing war between Jaswant Singh and Vasundhara Raje.
Manvendra Singh’s recent switch to the Congress marks the climax to a long-running cold war in the Rajasthan BJP. The marquee clash of Rajasthan politics – with Vasundhara Raje on one side and the Jaswant Singh family on the other – seems more like a medieval, feudal battle than a modern political tussle.
The personal and the political are so intimately linked in this ‘moonch ki ladai’ (“fight for honour”) that for years, most people did not even know that the feuding families were at war. Yet, in this clash of ego, pride and politics between a powerful Maharani (Raje) and a spirited Thakur clan (Jaswant and family), both sides would rather break than bend!
But why did two of Rajasthan’s tallest BJP leaders turn into foes? For this, one needs to trace the roots of the alienation that bred a sense of betrayal, and ultimately led to a parting of ways well before Manvendra uttered his now famous farewell slogan – ‘Kamal ka Phool, Humaari Bhool’ – ‘Going with BJP’s lotus symbol was our mistake’.
A brief look at the history of this break-up is instructive and full of irony. For political observers, Raje touching Jaswant’s feet in Jaipur in December 2003 was a recognition of Jaswant Singh’s role in mentoring her to become the first woman chief minister of Rajasthan. Just as he got Raje inducted as his deputy in the Ministry of External Affairs through his closeness to PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Jaswant, along with Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, got Raje into the politics of the desert state.
The friendship, however, was short-lived. Soon after BJP lost the Lok Sabha elections in 2004, Raje began ignoring the former finance minister since she felt Jaswant was a threat to her chair.
Many allege that Raje did her bit to spoil the political debut of Manvendra during the 2004 Lok Sabha elections and thus dashed all hopes of the Jaswant-Shekhawat brigade becoming back-seat drivers of power.
With her own band of loyalists, Raje made it apparent that like the Congress ‘Old Guards’ had mistaken Indira Gandhi as a ‘Goonghi Gudiya’ or a ‘Dumb Doll’ in the mid- 1960s, the BJP seniors too had under-estimated her political prowess!
The Cold War Starring Raje and Jaswant
Initially veiled by civility, the Raje-Jaswant cold war soon led to ludicrous attempts to embarrass each other. It started in 2006 when Raje loyalists dubbed a member of a Jaswant Singh-led delegation to Pakistan as a history sheeter involved in anti-national activities. For Jaswant, the army man-turned-politician, this was a below-the-belt attack to ‘insult’ his patriotism.
The freak floods in Barmer in August 2006 washed away the remaining bonds between the two camps as Jaswant loyalists began a whisper-campaign alleging that the Raje government was deliberately slack in helping flood victims in order to politically harm Manvendra, the then sitting MP from Barmer.
The growing bitterness led to an open war in the summer of 2007 when Vasundhara loyalists issued a poster depicting Raje as a Goddess and claiming that this was an ‘insult’ to her religious sentiments, Jaswant’s wife Sheetal Kumari dragged the matter to court! As Vasundhara critics started rallying around Jaswant, a celebration at his home town Jasol in October 2007 gave the Raje camp a chance to hit back.
A local citizen, allegedly at Raje’s instigation, registered a police complaint against Jaswant Singh for serving opium to his guests. Though a truce was reportedly brokered through LK Advani’s intervention, the bitterness had now turned into an open, irrevocable battle.
Given this tussle, Jaswant and Manvendra sat supinely as Vasundhara was defeated in the 2008 Assembly elections. In return, Raje too did not campaign for Manvendra in the Lok Sabha elections of 2009, which led to him losing his MP seat of Barmer.
After BJP’s rout in Rajasthan, the Jaswant camp lobbied hard for Raje’s removal as the Leader of Opposition. Though Raje kept battling for political survival, she managed to quell the intra-party back stabbings as Jaswant was briefly expelled from the BJP.
With both stalwarts out of power, the rift receded for a few years and they even tried burying the hatchet by touring Barmer district together in 2012. However, after the BJP won the Rajasthan elections in 2013, when Raje ignored Manvendra’s claims for inclusion in the state Cabinet, the ego-battle and political rivalry resurfaced with greater ferocity.
Raje’s ‘Betrayal of The Rajputs’
The final rupture came when instead of accommodating Jaswant’s claims, the BJP, under Raje’s pressure, gave the Barmer ticket in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections to Congress defector Colonel Sona Ram; an insult that made the veteran openly accuse Raje of betraying not just him “but the principles of BJP as well as its workers”.
Despite losing the 2014 polls, Jaswant turned his personal battle into a community’s war by calling upon Rajputs to join his fight for honour since Raje had doled out several BJP tickets to Jats – the traditional rivals of the Rajput community.
Though Jaswant’s humiliation is cited as Raje’s betrayal of the Rajputs, the community is currently upset with the Raje government for a variety of reasons ranging from the mishandling of the Padmavati film controversy, to the encounter-killing of a local Rajput strongman Anandpal, as well as the recent sidelining of Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat in the race to be the state BJP President due to Raje’s opposition.
With Jaswant Singh in coma for over four years, Manvendra termed his resignation as an issue of ‘swaabhiman’ (self-respect) for Rajput pride and honour. It is this Rajput goodwill that Manvendra hopes to carry into the Congress and help it win more Rajput votes. Whether that will come true or not remains uncertain.
But it’s undeniable that though Rajputs comprise only 7 percent of the state’s population, their influence in electoral politics extends far beyond their numbers and experts say they impact about 50 of the 200 Vidhan Sabha seats in Rajasthan.
As such, if Manvendra’s call for self-respect strikes a strong chord with the honour-bound Rajput community, Vasundhara Raje may find an ailing Jaswant Singh far tougher to handle than the healthy Thakur she outwitted in 2014!
(The author is a veteran journalist, and expert on Rajasthan politics, who served as a Resident Editor at NDTV. He tweets at @rajanmahan. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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