In a star-studded list of 40 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) campaigners for next month’s Gujarat election, the absence of former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje has got party circles abuzz.
It’s being seen as another veiled message from the party high command to Raje about a year ahead of polls in Rajasthan. This came amid the BJP central leadership’s attempt to promote a new generation of leaders even as she refuses to step aside.
Usually, in an assembly election, chief ministers and influential leaders from neighbouring states figure, among others, on the list of star campaigners. The list for Himachal Pradesh election, for instance, included the CMs of Haryana, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh as well as party leaders from Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir.
Gujarat shares its border with Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. While Maharashtra deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis and MP CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan figure on the list of star campaigners, there is no one from Rajasthan. Being the party’s tallest leader in Rajasthan, Raje was expected to be on the list. In 2017, she was one of the star campaigners in Gujarat.
This comes at a time when the state unit of Rajasthan has been roped in by the central leadership for organisational work in several districts of Gujarat and has been camping in the state preparing for the assembly polls.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president J. P. Nadda, and Union Ministers Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari have been included in the party’s list of star campaigners. The chief ministers of BJP-ruled states, including Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Assam, among others, also figure on the list. In fact, both Shivraj Chouhan of MP and UP’s Yogi Adityanath addressed rallies in Gujarat Friday.
Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel, BJP state chief C. R. Patil, and Union Ministers Arjun Munda and Smriti Irani are the other big names on the list.
Star campaigners are usually crowd-pullers of parties whose expenditures on the campaign trail are not added to the expenditure of candidates.
According to a BJP source, the central leadership was bogged down by the constant infighting in its Rajasthan unit and pressure from Raje supporters who demand that she be declared the chief ministerial candidate for the next election. “This could be seen as a message to those supporters, too,” said the source.
‘Brand Modi’ in focus
With hardly a year left for the Rajasthan election, the BJP state unit continues to be marred by factionalism, which the party feels can affect its chances in the assembly polls, BJP sources said.
The party leadership has also been stressing on contesting the elections under the collective leadership of the state unit and ‘Brand Modi’.
The Rajasthan leadership was told by central leaders, including state in-charge Arun Singh, that PM Modi being the biggest brand and face of the BJP, they should not worry about the leadership issue as that would be decided by the high command.
“Vasundhara Raje is the national vice-president of the BJP, MP Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore is the national spokesperson, Alka Singh Gurjar is national secretary, state in-charge Arun Singh is national general secretary and co-in-charge Vijaya Rahatkar is national secretary. But none of these leaders have been deputed as star campaigners for the Gujarat elections,” a senior BJP leader pointed out.
“(Rajasthan BJP chief) Satish Poonia has been entrusted with the task of organisational work in Gujarat. He has visited the state a few times and will be visiting it again soon,” the leader added
Poonia has involved over 125 state party leaders in Gujarat, where the BJP has kept an ambitious target of winning 150 of 182 seats.
A party leader from Rajasthan said that, due to the assembly bypoll announcement for Sardarshahar seat, the Rajasthan unit was asked to keep focus on that.
“Apart from the Rajasthan bypoll, we also have the Bharat Jodo Yatra led by (Congress leader) Rahul Gandhi which will be passing through the state at the same time as the Gujarat elections. So, it becomes essential that senior leaders remain in Rajasthan,” the leader said, in reference to Raje’s absence.
“However, if the central leadership later feels that she (Raje) should campaign for Gujarat, there is plenty of time for that.”
Target given for Gujarat
According to a second senior BJP leader, “the Rajasthan unit was deputed on 43 seats in nine Gujarat districts”.
“Satish Pooniaji has been going there for quite some time, and central ministers will also be visiting the state. Already, 125 workers, including a few MLAs and state unit functionaries, have been tasked with winning a number of seats, especially in the tribal belt. A number of programmes have been held for the migrant community, too,” the leader said.
Poonia had earlier toured several parts of Gujarat, urging the diaspora to vote for the BJP in the assembly election. During his visits to Ahmedabad and Surat as part of the Pravasi Rajasthani outreach programme, he had stressed that there should be constant communication between “migrant brothers and sisters”.
Apart from Ahmedabad, Surat, and Vapi, Rajasthani migrants wield considerable influence in a number of seats in Gujarat, especially in Banaskantha and Kutch, which are districts bordering Rajasthan.