The Bharatiya Janta Party leader and former chief minister Vasundhara Raje's meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and national BJP leaders in the last two days have created a murmur in BJP state unit, and once again put the spotlight on her.
On March 24, Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Vasundhara Raje for about half an hour at his chamber in Parliament. Her face-to-face interaction with the Prime Minister happened after many months. However, the duo has been in touch through online platforms. She also met with Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. Raje on her social media handle also posted photos of meeting with Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann and Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.
A day prior to her meeting with Modi, Raje was spotted on dais with top BJP leaders, during the swearing-in ceremony of Pushkar Singh Dhami as Uttarakhand Chief Minister and later attended the oath ceremony of chief minister Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh. Raje, who is also the national vice president of BJP, was not involved in the election campaigning in any of the five states that went to polls, and also was missing during the state by-poll campaigns.
Raje's presence in the oath-taking ceremonies of BJP chief ministers also stands out because in recent times the former CM has been conspicuous in her absence from several events organised by the BJP's state unit. Raje is known to share a frosty relationship with the BJP state president Satish Poonia.
Is this Raje's attempt to project herself as the new CM? "With the Rajasthan assembly elections scheduled for December 2023, Raje’s active presence in party events is being seen as her effort to position herself as the BJP’s face in the state. Her meeting with the PM also symbolises how she is trying to bridge the gap and be friends with people who are at the helm," a senior BJP leader told Outlook. There are also speculations that changes might be made at the BJP state unit ahead of the elections.
Three weeks ago, Vasundhara Raje's 69th birthday celebration turned out to be a show of strength with a mix of religion and politics - and a clear message to BJP amidst the brewing factionalism.
Incidentally coinciding with International Women’s Day, Raje celebrated her 69th birthday by offering prayers at the Keshorai Bhagwan temple in Keshoraipatan, in Bundi district, followed by meeting people, rally, deep daan and other programmes. Being Raje's home turf, the rally witnessed the participation of almost one lakh people from various districts of Rajasthan and women were seen in high numbers. According to Raje's office, around 50 MLAs and 15 MPs from the BJP, and former MLAs and MPs were present at the rally and other events throughout the day.
This is not the first time that Raje's tour has turned into a show of strength. In November 2021, just three months ago, Raje conducted a four days Dev Darshan (religious tour). She then had made every attempt of giving her trip a 'religious' flavour, but the party's state unit saw it as a show of strength. In October 2021, Raje visited Jodhpur to offer condolences to Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat after his mother passed away. She also visited the former minister Mahipal Maderna’s house to pay her tributes to the Congress leader who died in October.
"She wanted to give a message to the Centre that without projecting her as a CM face, BJP cannot win in Rajasthan as she still enjoys support of the large chunk of MLAs in the state. There has also been a consistent pressure from the Centre to improve coordination between the two groups in the state", a senior BJP leader said.
In Rajasthan's BJP unit, the infighting between the Vasundhara Raje faction and the state Rajasthan president Satish Poonia is an open secret. The in-fighting in the Rajasthan BJP dates back to the 2018 assembly elections. After losing the elections, Raje was sidelined by the central leadership. In June this year, the BJP state-in-charge, Arun Singh had warned party leaders that strict action would be taken against those trying to create factions in the party.
For over a year, the state BJP leadership has been alleging that Raje is running a ‘parallel system’ in the state with the focus on herself instead of the party. This even includes COVID-19 welfare initiatives, for which she reached out to many during the second wave. Raje's supporters are openly demanding that the party projects her as the chief ministerial candidate for 2023 elections. In August 2021, her supporters inaugurated an office in Jaipur that fuelled many rumours.