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Stalemate over appointment of Rajasthan BJP chief continues amid caste concerns

Chief minister Vasundhara Raje’s loyalists believe that appointing Gajendra Singh Shekhawat – a Rajput leader – to the post will further alienate the Jat community.

jaipur Updated: Apr 25, 2018 16:26 IST
Manoj Ahuja
Manoj Ahuja
Hindustan Times, Jaipur
Rajasthan BJP chief,Vasundhara Raje,Chief minister
Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje’s supporters are pushing for the appointment of Srichand Kriplani, the cabinet minister for urban development and housing, to the position. However, Kriplani has excused himself from the race. (HT Photo)

The likely appointment of Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat to the post of Rajasthan BJP chief has brought divisions in the state unit to the fore, with a section of Rajasthan politicians expressing their reservations in this regard.

Shekhawat and Union minister Arjun Ram Meghwal were being considered as the front runners for the post ever since Ashok Parnami resigned a week ago.

The row has also highlighted chief minister Vasundhara Raje’s uncomfortable relationship with the party’s central leadership, with her loyalists camping at Rajasthan House in New Delhi to push for a “suitable” candidate. Hectic lobbying is underway in both Jaipur and Delhi, with BJP chief Amit Shah expected to take a final decision in a day or two. Parliamentarians from Rajasthan are believed to have advised Shah to appoint someone who would be acceptable to everybody.

The Rajasthan BJP is currently divided along caste lines, with Raje loyalists opposing Shekhawat – a Rajput politician – because they believe his appointment would further alienate Jats. There is a traditional rivalry between the two communities. Jats – who constitute about 12% of the state’s population – have never seen a member of the community become the chief minister, and this has become an emotive issue among them. The Raje camp is not overly enthusiastic about Meghwal, a Dalit MP from Bikaner, being appointed to the state party chief’s position either.

Two prominent Jat leaders – Devi Singh Bhati and Colonel (retired) Sonaram Choudhary – have openly opposed the move to appoint Shekhawat. On the other hand, the chances of Meghwal’s appointment dimmed after his son – Ravi Shekhar – allegedly put up a viral Facebook post predicting 140 seats for the Congress in the upcoming state assembly polls unless the BJP propped up a “clean face” for the position.

Although Shekhar subsequently claimed that somebody else had illegally used his cellphone to post the message, the damage was already done.

The Raje camp is pushing for the appointment of Srichand Kriplani, the cabinet minister for urban development and housing, to the position. However, Kriplani – who also hails from Parnami’s Sindhi community – has excused himself from the race.

While people familiar with the developments say Shekhawat is still the forerunner for the position, the names of Brahmin candidates such as social justice minister Arun Chaturvedi are also doing the rounds. Others in the reckoning include former minister Lakshmi Narayan Dave and Rajya Sabha MPs Bhupender Yadav and Narayan Lal Panchariya.

Amid all the brouhaha over caste calculations, the party’s preparations for the coming assembly elections have been pushed to the back burner. However, a BJP MLA told HT on the condition of anonymity that it was all for a very good reason. “Caste arithmetic was an important factor for our drubbing in the recent byelections. The ire of various communities cannot be ignored,” he said.

Rajasthan BJP leaders have reportedly held meetings with national general secretary (organisation) Ram Lal, Rajasthan in-charge Avinash Rai Khanna and national general secretary Bhupendra Yadav in this regard. However, none of them were willing to comment on the matter.

“I have come (to Delhi) on a personal trip. It has nothing to do with the appointment of the Rajasthan BJP president,” said agriculture minister Prabhulal Saini.

Ram Lal had called up Raje on Tuesday afternoon, in an attempt to break the deadlock. Shah was also in touch with her, despite his busy schedule in poll-bound Karnataka.

This is not the first time Raje has locked horns with the party’s central leadership. However, while the chief minister earlier enjoyed the backing of veteran party leaders such as LK Advani and Sushma Swaraj, she has to weather the storm by herself this time.

First Published: Apr 25, 2018 15:57 IST