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Raje’s brigade rebels against Rajnath
Published on 15 Aug. 2009 11:26 PM IST
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During the medieval times, Rajasthan repeatedly rebelled against Dilli Durbar’s efforts to enforce its writ. On Friday, Vasundhara Raje took a leaf from the history as she defied BJP president Rajnath Singh’s order to remove her as the Leader of Opposition in the Rajasthan assembly, sending her legions to New Delhi to battle for her cause. As many as 57 of the 78 BJP MLAs along with four Lok Sabha MPs the party has from the state descended on the Capital to boldly announce to Rajnath Singh their opposition to Raje’s removal. According to Times News Network, the memorandum submitted by the challengers to Singh and party senior L K Advani also had signatures of four more MLAs, leaving no doubt whatsoever about Raje’s clout. “Vasundhara Raje was our leader and she will remain our leader,” declared a defiant Bhawani Singh Rajawat who along with Rajendra Singh Rathore, Gyandeo Ahuja, Kiran Maheshwari and and Vasundhara’s son Dushyant Singh were marshalling her troops in the Capital. “We want to warn them (central leadership) that without her the people of Rajasthan and the party unit will be nothing. We do not want a change in the leadership,” Rathore, chief whip of the party in the assembly, said. The message of rebellion was amplified by Vijay Bansal, MLA from Bharatpur. “We will re-elect her, if she is removed,” he announced in cocking a snook at Singh who is having to do all the fire fighting on his own. This was the biggest-ever rebellion in BJP after the split in Gujarat unit, far outstripping the resistance from the state units that the central leadership often runs into. Having taken the BJP circles by storm, the MLAs, just like raiders from Rajasthan in medieval ages who harassed and harried Delhi rulers, returned to their base in Jaipur but with no loss of appetite for a fight. They will meet with Vasundhara in Jaipur, who stayed put in the city, on Saturday to chart out their next course of action. The intensity of retaliation from the Rajasthan satrap suggested Singh had underestimated the depth of Vasundhara’s support among her MLAs while overreading his own authority as the “high command.” L K Advani’s decision not to meet the rebels who staged an hour-long sit-down outside his Prithviraj Road residence could hardly provide succour to the party president. Advani, who met Singh, was maintaining form, wary of being seen as indulging rebels. But the aloofness was widely construed as a “you broke it, you fix it”, message, as well as reflecting the desire of many that the party chief be left to stew in factional juices. Off-the-record, some of the ultra-Vasundhara loyalists spoke of launching their own party under the former chief minister if they were not heeded. With Singh sticking to his guns, the Rajasthan rebellion threatened to snowball into a full-scale political crisis for the BJP, almost dwarfing its brainstorming session, the chintan baithak, beginning next week in Shimla. Singh’s camp was hoping that the MLAs would fall in line. Attempts were on to wean the MLAs away from the Raje camp by using a mix of carrots and veiled threats of disciplinary action. However, independent estimates from Jaipur suggested that Vasundhara, easily the most popular of the BJP leaders in the state, may succeed in holding on to the majority of MLAs. Independently of that, the crisis represents a grim challenge to Singh at the fag end of his tenure as the party chief. His associates maintained that he was only implementing the decision of the “core group”, and was part of a package which included the replacement of the state party chief and organisation secretary. Sources, however, stressed that the claim was only “technically” correct. They disclosed that the “core group” did discuss ways to tone up the organisation in the state in the aftermath of the defeat, and authorised the party chief to take appropriate measures. They, however, said that it was not meant to be a carte blanche, insisting that the decision to remove Vasundhara was presented as a fait accompli. “Even Gopinath Munde, who is in charge of the party in the Rajasthan, was unaware of the decision. That too, when Vasundhara is the only leader with a recognition stretching across Rajasthan,” said a senior party leader. Given the acute divisions in the party, all assertions can have a factional undertone. But the overwhelming sense seemed to be that Singh overplayed his hand, and may now have to go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that his decision stands. What can work to his advantage is the prestige of the office he holds. Even those who are not sympathetic to him may choose to work on Vasundhara to relent on her stand in exchange for suitable compensation. But whether the “compromise” will be acceptable to the rebel leader, known for her unconventional ways, remains to be seen. Leadership’s handling of Rajathan — a traditional stronghold for the BJP — has already exacted a toll, casting a shadow over the “chintan baithak”. The cost may rise if Vasundhara holds on to her numbers and refuses to back down. Even at the height of their power, the Mughals overcame the resistance from Rajasthan only by blending force with diplomacy. However, their supremacy was acknowledged only so long as they held power. Singh will have to marshal all his strength — including support from the Sangh — to beat hack the rebellion. OR

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