Differences between Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah have delayed the appointment of a new president of the party’s state unit by more than a month now, two BJP leaders familiar with the matter said.
Ashok Parnami — a Raje loyalist — resigned as Rajasthan BJP chief on April 18, as the party swung into damage control mode after losses in the by-elections to two Lok Sabha and one assembly constituencies and ahead of state elections later this year.
Shah wants to appoint Jodhpur MP, Gajendra Shekhawat, who is also a Union minister, as the new chief, a move that hasn’t elicited much support from Raje, one of the party leaders cited above said on condition of anonymity. She had earlier red-flagged a proposal to appoint Arjun Meghjwal, also a union minister, as a replacement for Parnami, he said. “The CM feels a president who does not belong to her camp could be trouble closer to the election,” he said.
Raje, according to the second leader cited above, wants her loyalist, Srichand Kriplani, a minister in the state government, to be the Rasthan head of the BJP, which would help her control the state unit. Kriplani’s name hasn’t evoked much enthusiasm among the party’s central leadership, the second leader said, requesting not to be named. “An announcement will be made soon,” BJP’s incharge for Rajasthan, Avinash Rai Khanna, said. “It has been delayed as party seniors were busy with Karnataka elections.” Shah is expected to travel to Rajasthan soon.
The BJP’s state unit chiefs in Madhya Pradesh, which is also due for assembly polls, and Andhra Pradesh also resigned this year. Their replacements have already been named. “A decision about Rajasthan got delayed because of a tug-of-war between Jaipur and Delhi,” the second leader said. “We expect Delhi to have the last laugh.”
People familiar with the issue said Raje had demanded that V Satish, the BJP’s joint organisational secretary looking after Rajasthan matters, be replaced by his contemporary Saudan Singh, with whom she has a better working relationship. Both Satish and Singh are Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) volunteers loaned to the BJP, and have been active in the party for more than a decade now. “The central leadership is unlikely to cede this demand as well, because Shah shares a good rapport with Satish,” the second leader said.
A proposal to deploy UP BJP’s organisational secretary Sunil Bansal in Rajasthan until after the polls is also being discussed in Delhi. Bansal, a protégé of Shah, is from Rajasthan and credited with building a strong party network in Uttar Pradesh. Rajasthan BJP’s organisational secretary Chandrashekhar, who uses only one name, too, is close to Bansal.
Winning Rajasthan is crucial for the BJP in many ways, and a series of electoral reverses in the desert state had set the alarm bells ringing in party headquarters in Delhi.
First, the December assembly election in Rajasthan will come months ahead of the April-May general election to the Lok Sabha. The BJP had won all 25 Lok Sabha seats from the state in 2014 and its tally in 2019 will also depend on how it performs in Rajasthan.
Second, the Congress is the BJP’s main rival in Rajasthan and won the recent by-elections. If it manages to the defeat the BJP in Rajasthan, it would be the Congress’s first victory over the BJP since 2014, and a shot in the arm for the principal opposition party ahead of the parliamentary elections.