Year: November 2003. Occasion: Coronation of the Rajasthan president of the BJP.
An overwhelmed Vasundhara Raje, 60, then Union minister of state for small scale industries, had tears rolling down her cheeks as she remembered her mother,Vijayaraje Scindia, and appealed to the people to support her in taking the BJP to new heights in the state.
Cut to February 2013. It is once again the coronation of the BJP president of Rajathan. This time round, Raje seemed calm and controlled, no fuzzy emotions clouding her political ambitions.
In the days that followed, it became increasingly clear that she had used the past five years in the opposition weighing her mistakes and working out a new poll strategy for the December 1 assembly elections.
In 2003, under Raje’s leadership and with RSS support, the party had won 120 assembly seats; in 2008, the number was down to 78.
After the party’s defeat, Raje became leader of the opposition but spent most of her time out of the state. Party functioning took a hit with no one at the helm.
To make things worse for her, in 2010, Raje was sidelined from state politics by the then party president, Rajnath Singh, who made her general secretary in the national executive and sent her packing to Delhi. In 2011, she once again became leader of the opposition and earlier this year she became state BJP boss, once again.
As chief minister, Raje would more often than not ignore senior party leaders and RSS cadres in her speeches, distancing them with her autocratic behaviour and arrogant attitude. Even at the time of ticket distribution, she did not consult any of them, nor did she factor in their opinion while strategising for the polls. These differences, but naturally, reflected in the 2008 assembly results.
“A few ministers and some bureaucrats ran the government affairs when she was CM and she was unaware of several decisions. Her trust of people surrounding her led to the party’s defeat in 2008,” said a senior bureaucrat who did not want to be named.
Since then, partly due to her own failure and partly drawing from the core team’s advice, a wiser Raje has made an effort to reach out to the Sangh leaders. Experts observe how her speeches have also started to include the all-embracing ‘we’.
“Hamein ek saath chal ke naya Rajasthan banana hai” (We have to form new Rajasthan by walking together), she exhorts in every speech.
“She has become a patient listener, though she still prefers to do what she likes,” said a party leader, who has closely watched Raje since 2003.
In March this year, she met RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat during a three-day meet of the RSS at Jamdoli. In the first week of October, she met other leaders at Sawai Madhopur and had a long discussion with them. She also convened a meeting with all former presidents of the party on October 15.
The meeting, according to the official version, was meant to discuss poll strategy, but insiders said it was actually a bid to placate the detractors.
Her efforts notwithstanding, will it be enough to rein in the differences within the party and muster a win for the BJP? The BJP certainly thinks so.
“Raje has emerged as leader of masses and all party leaders have accepted her. The BJP will form the government under her leadership,” said party spokesperson Kailash Nath Bhatt.
The rival Congress, however, claims she is no threat.
“She has made no efforts for reconciliation, instead has imposed herself on the party. The senior leaders are hurt and internal differences in the BJP will come out during elections. They are silent out of loyalty tot he party,” said Congress spokesperson Archana Sharma.