As Rajasthan gears up for the assembly elections at the end of this year, the BJP finds itself in the midst of a power play. On one hand, former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje is celebrating her birthday in a grand manner with a big-ticket bash at the Salasar temple in the Churu district on Saturday. On the other, the BJP’s youth wing, the Yuva Morcha, led by a leader widely seen as her rival, has launched a simultaneous program to picket Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s residence on the issue of exam paper leaks.
All MLAs have been asked to make the protest a success. For many BJP leaders, it is now a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea – should they stay with the party’s programme or follow Ms Raje, who is still a crowd puller? This clash of events is deepening the fault lines within the BJP.
Vasundhara Raje’s birthday bash is being seen as muscle-flexing ahead of the assembly elections in Rajasthan. Ms Raje, a two-time Chief Minister and still one of the party’s biggest vote getters, is a popular figure within the BJP. Although the party has decided not to project a chief ministerial face in this election, Ms Raje’s supporters see her as a potential candidate for the post.
The Vasundhara Raje camp, however, has denied that the birthday bash is a show of strength. They claim that Ms Raje has been celebrating her birthday with party workers for the past two years. BJP MP from Churu, Rahul Kaswan, said that Ms Raje is the party’s national vice-president, and the youth voter is attracted to her, which is why they want to celebrate her birthday.
“Two years ago, she celebrated her birthday in Goverdhanji in Bharatpur. Last year, it was Keshoraipatan and this year, it’s at Salasar as party workers want to meet her,” Mr Kaswan said.
In a potential clash with the event, the BJP’s youth wing has called a demonstration at the Chief Minister’s residence on the issue of exam paper leaks. The event will be addressed by state BJP chief Satish Poonia, long considered a challenger to Ms Raje’s dominance, and Rajendra Singh Rathore, deputy leader of the opposition party in the assembly. Mr Rathore denied that the competing events hinted at any kind of power struggle in the party.
“If a leader celebrates their birthday, there is nothing wrong with it. She has been two-time Chief Minister. There is no tug of war. The Vidhan Sabha was on these days and MLAs are required to be present here,” he said.
The BJP, meanwhile, has already mounted what appeared to be a bid to minimise the impression of a divide. The party’s Rajasthan in-charge Arun Singh has been sent from Delhi to attend the demonstration in the morning and go to wish Vasundhara Raje in the evening with party officebearers.