The BJP central leadership might have recently asked the rift-ridden Rajasthan BJP leaders to put their house in order and project a united face, but the feuds between the rival camps of ex-chief minister Vasundhara Raje and state party chief Satish Poonia is not showing any signs of abating. This was again sharply reflected by an episode that played out in Jhalawar district, a known Raje bastion, last week.
On April 29, Poonia visited Jhalawar for the first time since he took charge as the state BJP president in October 2019. He was welcomed at Chaumahla railway station from where he went to address a party workers’ training programme at Unhel in the district. What created a stir in political circles on that day was the allegations levelled by some BJP activists that a group of Poonia supporters was allegedly roughed up by party workers affiliated to a rival faction in Jhalawar district while they were heading to attend his event.
“Our convoy of 40-50 cars had started from Jhalawar to Chaumahla to receive Poonia at the railway station. When we were around 1 km away from Ghangdhar tehsil, we got to know that around 150-200 workers of our own party had assembled near a petrol pump in Ghangdhar and were checking cars passing through the area. When Poonia supporters told them that they are going to attend the Unhel event, first they tried to convince them not to go there. When they didn’t listen, these party workers started manhandling them, damaged their vehicles and broke the car glasses,” alleged Badri Pilot, a Jhalawar BJP member and ex-district general secretary of the party’s youth wing Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM).
Pilot said the accused men broke the windows of 3-4 cars and “forced” many party workers to return. “The people who did this were BJP workers who were raising slogans of Bharatiya Janata Party zindabad. The police had arrived and assured that the workers would be able to go to the party event. But despite that many workers had to go away without attending the event. The truth is that some people don’t want Adhyaksh ji (Poonia’s) programme to have a large gathering and be a success,” he charged, adding that during the event he had also highlighted the incident before Poonia.
Jhalawar is a stronghold of state BJP stalwart Raje, who had first become an MP from its Lok Sabha seat in 1989 and had thereafter won the seat for consecutive four more times in 1991, 1996, 1998 and 1999.
After Raje became the Rajasthan CM in 2003, she vacated the seat for her son Dushyant Singh, who has also been winning it continuously since 2004. Raje is the incumbent MLA from Jhalawar’s Jhalrapatan Assembly seat that she has been clinching since 2003. Raje’s sway over Jhalawar could be gauged from the fact that even though the BJP had lost the previous Assembly polls to the Congress, but still the party had then won all four seats in the district.
“Whatever happened on April 29 wasn’t good for the BJP. Such circumstances should never arise in the party because these are dangerous for the organisation. This is extremely shameful. There is not much left to say after such an incident,” said a senior party leader from Jhalawar.
In a bid to score political points, the ruling Congress has regularly taken potshots at the state BJP over the infighting between the factions of Rane and Poonia, highlighting the presence of several CM aspirants in the saffron party.
Raje’s loyalists have often issued statements against the official state leadership helmed by Poonia. Last year, Poonia had expelled a former minister and Raje loyalist from the BJP for alleged anti-party activities. Last year, several persons claiming to be Raje’s supporters had floated an outfit, called Vasundhara Raje Samarthak Manch Rajasthan (VRSMR), with its office-bearers maintaining that she should become the CM for the third time after the 2023 Assembly polls. Days later, a similar platform in Poonia’s support had also emerged although the state president distanced himself from it.
The BJP did not lodge any FIR in connection with the April 29 Jhalawar episode, although the local police was informed and officials were called to take stock of the damages inflicted on vehicles.
“Car glasses were broken during that incident that took place at around 3:00-3:15 pm on April 29. No FIR has been lodged in the matter because nobody submitted a complaint,” said Ghangdhar circle police officer Prem Kumar.
When contacted, Jhalawar district BJP president Sanjay Jain claimed that the persons behind the incident were yet to be identified. “The incident took place around 25 kms away from our training programme. I along with other leaders including MLAs were at the event. When we got to know about it, we informed the police. We don’t know yet who was behind the incident,” he said.
Poonia declined to comment on the incident, just saying that “As part of the party’s training programme, I had to visit all districts of the state. Since I had earlier visited all other districts and Jhalawar was the only district remaining, I went there on April 29.”
Significantly, at a meeting of senior Rajasthan BJP leaders held by party national president J P Nadda in the third week of April in Delhi, which was attended by Raje and Poonia among other leaders, the central leadership had not minced any words while asking them to get united and work together in the run-up to the coming polls.