Chief minister Vasundhara Raje may be the face of the BJP in Rajasthan but a large section of her party in the state is reluctant to come out openly in her defence this time, feeding speculation that she didn’t have enough support to break away from the party.
However, sources said, as a compromise Raje could push for a replacement of her choice should she fail to persuade the party leadership to let her stay on.
The 62-year-old leader has a history of locking horns with the central leadership when attempts were made to clip her wings. When then BJP president Rajnath Singh asked her to step down as leader of opposition in the state after a rout in the 2009 polls, she sent 57 of the party’s 78 MLAs to Delhi, in a show of strength, and threatened to walk out of the party.
But Raje appears to be on a weak wicket this time. Her mentor and backer in New Delhi LK Advani no longer holds sway over the party and a majority of her legislators and cabinet ministers are from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which has a blow-hot-blow-cold relationship with her.
Although the BJP central leadership sent transport minister Nitin Gadkari to defend her in the row over Lalit Modi, the emergence of purported evidence that she had signed off on the former IPL chief’s UK immigration papers may have titled the scales against her. This explains why most ministers in her government and party lawmakers have not come out in her support.
The three-day sojourn of BJP co-organising secretary Saudan Singh in Jaipur is being considered as tactic of the party high command to check out the support base of Raje and the activities in the state party.
Singh, who left for Delhi on Thursday, evaded the media but political sources said he will brief the central leadership about the situation in Rajasthan. BJP vice president Om Mathur, a know detractor of Raje, also stayed in Jaipur for the past three days last week and met with a number of MLAs and ministers at his residence.
Already, names of a number of leaders are doing the rounds as Raje’s possible replacement with Om Mathur topping the list. However, HT learnt from sources that the chances of former state party president Mahesh Sharma, social justice and empowerment minister Arun Chaturvedi and PHED minister Kiran Maheshwari were also strong.
“Mahesh Sharma ji had good equations with Raje when she was CM in her last tenure and he was the party president. He also has RSS background and is an intellectual person” said a senior leader seeking anonymity. The leader said Raje has mass base in the state and she could not be written off so easily.
Sharma, when contacted, said no change of guard is going to happen in Rajasthan. “There are a large number of dedicated party workers and high command can choose anyone of them” he said when asked about speculations over the CM's replacement. Senior party leaders said caste equations would also come into play.
Read: Lalit Modi row: Raje reaches out to party leaders for support