Last Updated: June 01, 2023, 09:13 IST
The presence of former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje on the stage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Ajmer on Wednesday after a long gap has set off speculation in political circles in Jaipur if the BJP will bet again on her face in the upcoming state elections.
Raje was not present on the stage during the PM’s earlier three visits to Rajasthan this year to Nathdwara, Dausa and Bhilwara. Her attendance at the Ajmer function was not public till she arrived minutes before the prime minister did on stage. Though the former chief minister did not speak on the occasion, what did not go unnoticed was her presence right next to the PM’s seat and her act of gently pushing the leader of opposition, Rajendra Rathore, to make space for herself next to the PM while waving to the crowd.
“Raje is an important leader… in Rajasthan, she remains the party’s tallest state face. The fact that Sachin Pilot has picked a banner of revolt in his party demanding action against Raje for alleged corruption shows why she remains central in the political landscape of the state and the party cannot ignore her,” a senior BJP leader from Rajasthan told News18, not wishing to be named. The leader quickly added that the party could still fight the election on Modi’s face and not project any clear chief ministerial candidate.
Another BJP leader said the party does have other senior faces in the state like CP Joshi, Union minister Gajendra Shekhawat and Rajendra Rathore. The party is aware that the last assembly election in Rajasthan was fought by the Congress on the issue of removing Raje as the chief minister with a slogan being popular in the public — ‘Modi Tujhse Vair Nahin, Par Rani Teri Khair Nahin’ (No problem with Modi, but we will punish Raje). However, BJP knows that Raje has the capability to make comebacks as chief minister, as she showed in 2003 and 2013.
Another factor that may weigh on the BJP’s mind is the Karnataka loss which many have attributed to the removal of veteran BS Yediyurappa, the party’s tallest state face, as the chief minister two years before the state went to polls. Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is also adopting the ‘freebies’ route in Rajasthan — much like his party’s strategy in Karnataka — like announcing 100 units of free power on Wednesday soon after the PM’s visit.
The BJP, in such a scenario, would find it difficult to ignore the case of its tallest state face in Raje to challenge Gehlot in the year-end elections. In 2013, Raje had become chief minister after reducing the Gehlot-led Congress to just 21 seats in the 200-seat assembly.