In 2013, though Modi and other BJP leaders campaigned in Rajasthan, the assembly poll victory undoubtedly belonged to Raje. This time it will be different
As Rajasthan goes to polls on December 7, to decide whether incumbent Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje gets a second term, a little-known incident comes to mind: in 2014, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was putting together a government after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a massive mandate, he wanted Raje to join him at the Centre. Raje declined and told Modi that she could not let down the huge mandate handed to her -- so goes a popular tale among party insiders.
Modi probably had the defence portfolio in mind for her. Raje, however, would have felt that being on her own terms in not-so-far away Jaipur as head of a popularly-elected state government meant more than being India’s first woman defence minister -- an honour which later, in September 2017, went to Nirmala Sitharaman.
In 2013, though Modi and other BJP leaders campaigned in Rajasthan, the assembly poll victory undoubtedly belonged to Raje. She led the campaign from the front, addressing maximum number of meetings and had a big say in the selection of candidates.
The BJP won 163 of the 200 Assembly seats, clocking 45 percent of votes while the Congress came a distant second with 21 seats and 33 percent of the votes. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) managed only three and Independents won seven. By all accounts, it was a mandate that deluded even BJP stalwart Bhairon Singh Shekhawat whose name is still synonymous with the party’s rise in the desert state.
Raje has been a powerful leader in the male-dominated Rajasthan, creating her own legacy in the decade after Shekhawat.
Since then, her style of governance had earned her admirers and critics alike, especially in her own party. So much so, Raje has come to symbolise the single big factor for the BJP in victories and defeat.
In fact, when she lost the assembly polls in 2008, the same reasons that are now touted for the BJP’s crisis were heard -- that she is inaccessible, arrogant and stubborn to the point of alienating a number of senior colleagues, legislators and middle-level BJP leaders.
A tough leader who believes she is giving her best performance, Raje has had many party men wishing that she was replaced by more friendly face.
In fact, several attempts were made but most exasperated BJP leaders found that Raje remained undeterred in her belief that nothing was wrong with her governance style. As a Union minister put it, “nobody can deny that she has brought big changes in the state, but she left so many of our leaders unhappy that they refused to speak about her good work.”
Even in the last days of the campaign, when the entire BJP leadership worked to shore up the party’s chances against a resurgent Congress, Raje showed no regret for things going awfully difficult for the BJP in some areas.
When BJP President Amit Shah tried to rebuild support for Raje by asserting in interviews that she had achieved a lot in the state but failed to market herself, Raje disagreed with Shah. In a recent interview she said: “I do not think so. I think I spent more time working. I did not think there was enough time talking to all of you. Either I could do that or I could just work.”
Much to the disbelief of other BJP leaders, Raje has not betrayed doubts about her chances of winning back the mandate. “This election is BJP’s election for the people based on the work we have done. What is ranged against us is the record of earlier governments who did nothing and allowed things to lag behind.”
It is against this backdrop that Modi, Shah and other BJP leaders have pulled out all stops for the best possible scenario. Modi’s last round of campaign has energised the rank and file of the party and is expected to deny the Rahul Gandhi-led Congress an easy victory.
This time, if the BJP succeeds, Raje would have to share honours with Modi and Shah unlike in 2013 when it was entirely hers with none to question her claim.
The Congress, of course, would have a number of factors to analyse why it failed to make it despite being perceived quite early in the campaign run-up to have a large advantage.
As for Raje, in the event of BJP losing Rajasthan, she may have to do more than her bit of retrospection.
(Shekhar Iyer is former senior associate editor of Hindustan Times and political editor of Deccan Herald. The views expressed are personal)For more Opinion pieces, click here.
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