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Heat on Raje as fire spreads

As Rajasthan bristles with a fresh outbreak of Gujjar violence, a tense BJP leadership considers a replacement for Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, reports Shekhar Iyer.
Hindustan Times | By Shekhar Iyer, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAY 25, 2008 12:11 AM IST

As Rajasthan bristled with a fresh outbreak of Gujjar violence, a tense BJP leadership on Thursday is considering a replacement for Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje.

Central BJP leaders led by Rajnath Singh mulled the idea of asking Raje to step down and make way for Om Mathur, the state BJP president who was sent last January to tone up the party and assist in improving the working of the government.

With the assembly elections in the state due later this year, the BJP top brass is reluctant to allow the situation to drift “dangerously” to a point where it would be easy for the Congress-led UPA to impose President's rule ahead of the polls.

BJP insiders said Raje, who is not in good terms with Mathur, is expected to put up a resistance but top leaders are hoping to “persuade” her to “appreciate” the position of the party if President’s rule is imposed in the state.

In fact, Raje had threatened to quit when Mathur was made the state BJP chief against her wishes. She had then feared that he would emerge as the rival power centre. It was only after much persuasion by L.K. Advani and Sushma Swaraj that Raje decided to give in.

The idea of replacing Raje gained currency late on Saturday night when Rajnath held consultations with senior leaders including Leader of Opposition Jaswant Singh, who hails from the state.

Jaswant, who has been critical of Raje’s handling of issues for a long time, told other BJP leaders that things were really getting out of hand and would add to other anti-incumbency problems for the party. What worried the central BJP leaders was that at least ten people were killed and scores wounded when police opened fire on a mob that set ablaze a police station in Daussa district as the Gujjars agitation for ST status spread to new areas of the state. The death toll in the last two days of firing and clashes between Gujjars and police went up to 26.

On Friday night, Rajnath had called a meeting of the core group – consisting of senior leaders including Jaswant Singh, Arun Jaitely and Sushma Swaraj to consider options even as he told Raje to ensure that the situation was brought under control. The BJP parliamentary board will meet on Sunday to discuss Karnataka but it is also expected to discuss Rajasthan.

Mathur was in charge of Gujarat before he was shifted to his home state after almost a decade. He was general secretary (organisation) of the Rajasthan BJP during the days of Bhairon Singh Shekhawat as Chief Minister. He replaced Dr Mahesh Chandra Sharma, whose removal was demanded by the dissidents opposed to Raje.

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