Rajasthan elections 2018: Vasundhara Raje retains loyalists in BJP's first list of candidates, goes against party's pre-poll assessment

The BJP's first list of candidates for Rajasthan has the imprimatur of chief minister Vasundhara Raje, who has managed to have her say in the selection process in spite of the high command’s efforts to curtail her powers.

File image of Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. Twitter/@vasundharabjp

File image of Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. Twitter/@vasundharabjp

In spite of a pre-poll exercise aimed at replacing many of the incumbents, the BJP high command has fielded 85 sitting legislators in the first list of 131, indicating it has relented to Raje's pressure for retaining her loyalists and making other state leaders like Arjun Ram Meghwal and Gajendra Singh irrelevant.

Raje's stamp on the list shows two things: One, the BJP central leadership has allowed the CM to fight the battle the way she wants, and two, it is wary of rebellion more than anti-incumbency.

Till the day candidates were announced, it was widely believed that more than 60 percent of the BJP legislators in the 200-member house would be jettisoned. The BJP’s own surveys had reportedly predicted 115 incumbents were locked in tough contests they may lose.

Armed with this feedback, the BJP had conducted an elaborate pre-poll exercise to find replacements through feedback from various agencies, state leaders and Independent observers. In the end, with just 23 incumbents getting replaced, the ritual turned out to be a charade.

One of the important factors behind the BJP”s reluctance to counter anti-incumbency with large-scale changes is the fear that rebels would have become a headache in a milieu of rising discontent. Raje seemed to have conveyed to the high command that new faces would find it difficult to battle the twin effects of anti-incumbency and powerful BJP rebels in a large number of constituencies. Party insiders said, the original idea was to replace 100-plus MLAs. But even if half of them had entered the fray as Independent candidates or joined the third front led by Hanuman Beniwal, the BJP campaign would have started on a bad note. Also, its energy would have been sapped by efforts to manage rebels.

There is, however, the clear danger of triple anti-incumbency — against the Centre, the state and the local candidate — working against the party. If the Congress chooses its candidates wisely, the BJP would find the going tough.

Be that as it may, Raje's supremacy in Rajasthan has been accepted by the party. This may, of course, cut both ways. If she manages to win Rajasthan, the chief minister's stature would grow further, making her the automatic choice for the top job. It would also re-establish her as a party heavyweight, a privilege she seemed to have lost in the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah era.

But, if the BJP loses, Raje would be the only one to be blamed and held responsible, especially after getting candidates of her choice. A major loss would result in clamour for phasing her out and handing over the reins to some other leader before the Lok Sabha elections. The contours of an ongoing struggle for leadership are visible in the first list where in spite of Raje's clout, the RSS has managed to field some of its favorites-- like Madan Dilawar-- who are the CM’s critics.

The BJP’s critics may like to see the first list with an entirely different perspective. The high command’s inability to replace incumbents may come across as an act of surrender—not to Raje but to the growing fear that Rajasthan is a lost cause and the realization that it is more prudent to let the CM lead the battle and keep the prime minister away from it.

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Updated Date: Nov 13, 2018 10:35:16 IST

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