New Delhi: With less than six months to go for Rajasthan Assembly elections, both the ruling BJP and opposition Congress are carefully placing the pieces of the puzzle to navigate the caste maze.
On the one hand, the appointment of Rajya Sabha MP Kumari Selja to an important post is being seen as a move by the Congress to woo Dalits, the BJP’s delay in announcing their next state president signals a tentative approach so as to not upset any major caste group.
The Congress on Saturday announced that Kumari Selja, a Rajya Sabha MP from Haryana, would be the chairperson of the Congress screening committee for the upcoming polls. Congress leaders said there were several things working for Selja. Among those was the fact that she is considered close to both former Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot. Sources said she was the establishment’s first pick.
Her identity as a Dalit leader, party leaders said, will also aid the party. “There is a lot of resentment among Dalits against the BJP everywhere. If we have a Dalit leader as the head of the screening committee, this will send the right message,” a Congress leader said.
The same swiftness of decision-making, however, is missing in the BJP. The saffron party has not had a state unit president since April, when Ashok Parnami resigned his post. Parnami was considered close to Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and the deliberation for his successor has revealed a widening gulf between Raje and the central leadership.
According to sources, the appointment was delayed earlier because BJP chief Amit Shah was occupied with the Karnataka elections and could not devote adequate time to the Rajasthan BJP unit.
However, since the Karnataka elections have ended, Raje and the central leadership can’t seem to arrive at a conclusion. Sources said the central leadership has backed Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat as its choice for Rajasthan BJP president. Raje, however, has objected to Shekhawat’s appointment. According to reports, Raje prefers a Jat, instead of a Rajput, as the next BJP state president.
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.