The BJP has three good reasons to cheer in the Rajasthan Assembly polls – clear caste consolidation of Gujjaras/Thakurs/Brahmins and a section of the OBCs, the tradition of voting out the incumbent governments in the State, infighting and anti-incumbency against individual Congress MLAs. But there is one reason where the saffron party lags behind the Congress – the absence of a strong CM face and diminished profile of its tallest leader, Vasundhara Raje Scindia.
In the year that the BJP passed the historic Women’s Reservation Bill in Parliament, the party has chosen to take down its only woman mass leader and former Chief Minister in Rajasthan. Since 2003 when her colourful yatras across the State wooed the electorate and she became Chief Minister for the first time, Raje has been an unmistakable figure in Rajasthan politics. But she is not the face of the BJP’s campaign this year, and her party has sidelined her in the strategic bid to create a new set of leaders in the desert State. As many as seven MPs have been fielded as candidates by the BJP in the ongoing elections.
In the BJP’s posters and billboards, Raje’s profile has been relegated to the second slot along with local leaders, State BJP unit president CP Joshi and Leader of Opposition Rajendra Rathore, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi is allotted the top slot. The PM has also made it quite clear that Raje is not the BJP’s CM candidate declaring in a rally in Chittorgarh at the beginning of the campaign in October that the “BJP has only one face and that face is lotus (BJP’s election symbol)”.
“There is no question that if Vasundharaji had been projected, we would have won a two-thirds majority in Rajasthan. We believe we are winning this, but we would have been on surer footing if she was our CM face,” said a BJP leader. The sentiment is echoed in the Congress. “This is a tough contest because the BJP seems leaderless,” said a Congress leader.
On the ground, BJP voters estimate losses. “The BJP is losing at least 30 seats because they did not project Vasundhara,” said Manish Khandelwal, a BJP supporter in Dausa.
However, party faithful believe that even without her, the BJP stands a good chance in Rajasthan. In Ajmer district, where the BJP had won five out of eight Assembly seats in 2018, the local party workers estimate a rise in the tally.
“We will still support and campaign for the BJP even if the party decides to field a dog as Chief Minister. It is an article of faith for us,” said Satya Narain Bhansali, the Karyalaya Pramukh or Office Incharge at the BJP’s Ajmer headquarters.
Bhansali and his co-workers at the party office believe that the BJP will come up with “an innovative choice” as Chief Minister when the time comes. The general feeling was that it is the end of the road for Vasundhara Raje.