Jaipur: The Rajasthan unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which had been headless for close to three months, finally got its new president. The party has announced that veteran leader Madan Lal Saini will take charge of affairs in the crucial state that will go to elections by the end of this year.
Raje loyalist Ashok Parnami had 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 in March this year.
According to sources, differences between Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje and BJP chief Amit Shah had delayed the appointment of a new president of the party’s state unit. With the appointment of Saini, who belongs to the Mali caste, the BJP has stayed clear of a major political divide – that between the Jats and the Rajputs.
While Shah’s first choice for the post was Jodhpur MP and union minister Gajendra Shekhawat, Raje wanted her loyalist, Srichand Kriplani, a minister in the state government, to be the head to help her control the state unit. According to reports, Raje preferred a Jat, instead of a Rajput, as the next BJP state president.
The party has chosen Saini as a consensus candidate. Saini was the MLA from Udaipurwati in Jhunjhunu, a seat he won in 2008. In April this year, he was elected unopposed to the Rajya Sabha from the state of Rajasthan.
This is also being seen as a move to counter the Congress, whose top leader in the state is Ashok Gehlot. Both Saini and Gehlot belong to the same caste.
This comes at a time when the Rajasthan Congress unit, led by Sachin Pilot, has been relentlessly reaching out to Rajputs, trying to forge a Rajput-Gujjar coalition. In February this year, the Congress had won the Ajmer and Alwar Lok Sabha bypolls and the Mandlagarh assembly bypolls.
The encounter of Rajput gangster Anandpal Singh Didwana and the BJP government’s handling of the anti-‘Padmaavat’ protests are said to have angered the Rajput community. Sources said that while the Central leadership wants to repair the relationship with Rajputs, Raje wants to focus on Jats.
On June 2, the Akhil Bhartiya Jat Arakshan Sangharsh Samiti (ABJSS) announced that it was preparing for a fresh stir. If the protests spill over into Rajasthan, which has a significant Jat population, it could give the BJP cause for concern.
Saini started his career in politics in 1972, with the Bhartiya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh. After years of being associated with the RSS’s workers’ and farmers’ outfits, he entered electoral politics after he became the MLA from Udaipurwati. In 1991 and 1998, he even contested the Lok Sabha polls from Jhunjhunu.
This is also being seen as a move by the BJP leadership to placate the state’s farmers, who have been on several protests over the last year.
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 high command.
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.