You may disagree on who actually won in the Rajasthan Congress battle between Sachin Pilot and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. But there is one undisputed and unexpected winner that everybody had written off – BJP’s Vasundhara Raje. She emerged from her long hibernation at the right moment and reasserted her political swag in her trademark style.

Rajasthan’s former chief minister and senior BJP leader Vasundhara Raje has once again proved that you may hate her, love her, but you cannot ignore her. One may question her functioning style or her occasional arrogance, but no one can question her charisma, appeal, and stature in the state.

For over a year now, Raje supporters felt that she was being sidelined by the BJP’s central leadership in Delhi. But the recent Sachin Pilot episode that shook the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government for almost a month came as a blessing in disguise. This crisis has helped both Ashok Gehlot and Raje prove their leadership skills in the state as well as at the national level.

Power of Raje

When chief minister Ashok Gehlot was blaming the BJP for trying to destabilise his government, Raje kept mum and did not issue any statements. Rather, she was busy tweeting birthday wishes, good luck to students and just one tweet on the Congress crisis. She let state BJP president Satish Poonia and his colleagues to fight it out. She only entered the scene three days before the crisis in Congress ended.

BJP leaders told me that Raje, during her stay in New Delhi, let the central leadership know that nothing could happen in Rajasthan without her consent. She also raised the issue of the state executive committee formation, comprising mostly of her critics. She emphatically told the central leadership that she was not being given due importance.

Political grapevine is rife in Jaipur that she communicated to the BJP leadership that she was not consulted and not taken into confidence on the Pilot issue and was not prepared for the young Congress leader’s entry into the BJP. Raje supposedly has the support of over 50 per cent of the 72 MLAs that the BJP has in the state assembly, as of now.

This is why the BJP couldn’t do in Rajasthan what they could in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka.

On her own turf

The logic is simple. Why would Vasundhara Raje want another competitor — that too from another competing party? Raje is not ready for anything less than the chief minister’s post in Rajasthan, and when she is not ready to accept any other leader from her own party, forget about any leader from the Congress.

For now, as Sachin Pilot and Gehlot call truce, Raje has been able to show her political prowess to leaders sitting in New Delhi. She has been able to prove that she still holds power in Rajasthan.

Even political analysts say that if Raje was at the helm of affairs of the BJP during this crisis period in the Congress, the results would have been different.

But Raje has been silent for nearly two years now, except for occasionally meeting grassroots party workers and a few of her old cabinet colleagues. She has been spending time in her ancestral Dholpur house. She self-isolated for a while in Lucknow after Bollywood singer Kanika Kapoor was found to be Covid-positive. Raje had attended a party with her. She was also present at Ashok Gehlot’s video conference with all MLAs and MPs of Rajasthan on the coronavirus in May.

But the BJP had completely sidelined her. The infighting in the BJP is so deep now that a staunch Raje loyalist Yunus Khan’s poster put in front of the BJP office in Jaipur on his birthday was torn by some BJP workers. Political insiders say that even in the selection of the state BJP president, Raje was not consulted — and Poonia was selected. He is not considered a part of the Raje camp, but is close to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

One must not forget that people may have grudges and complaints against Raje’s style of functioning or governance but there is no match for her in the state. The people still respect her, and the BJP can face problems if she refrains from party activities or is made to stay silent.

An arrogant leader

After this Congress fiasco, one thing is for sure, Raje should be given more power in Rajasthan if BJP is to be fortified in the state. The party is facing increasing factionalism and in-fighting and is no different from Congress. Raje has great charisma, following and political astuteness, and would be the right choice for strengthening the party in the state before the next assembly election due in 2023.

But before that, Raje has to also change her style of functioning, which according to BJP workers was autocratic during her previous stint as chief minister from 2013 to 2018. Workers would often say that she encouraged and thrived on sycophancy. She was seen as arrogant because she kept away from the public and journalists. Moreover, she was also considered inaccessible by the average party worker.

Hopefully, she won’t repeat her previous mistakes and the BJP won’t repeat the mistake of sidelining her in Rajasthan again.
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