A top leader with the saffron party told India Today on Friday that ‘Operation Desert state’ is on hold till there is clarity on Sachin Pilot’s decision and the support he enjoys in the state. “The BJP, before entering the frame, needs to know how far Sachin Pilot will go and what kind of support he can muster,” the leader said.
He added that the BJP’s lack of readiness to go for the kill is indicated by the fact that till now the party has not asked Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot to prove his majority through a floor test. There are signs of reconsideration since the BJP’s hand was visible as a result of Pilot’s meetings with Jyotiraditya Scindia and BJP leader Om Mathur along with IT and ED raids on businessmen close to CM Gehlot.
Rajasthan’s politics cannot be compared to that of Madhya Pradesh since the number game and BJP’s own internal equations here are not conducive. One visible sign of this is the party’s decision to cancel all operations and planned meetings in Rajasthan. The only sign of activity has been an informal meeting at the BJP state headquarters in Jaipur between Leader of Opposition in Rajasthan assembly Gulabchand Kataria, BJP state president Satish Poonia, and senior leader Rajendra Rathore.
At present, Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat is monitoring the developments in Rajasthan while Scindia is dealing with Pilot and Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan seems to be making other arrangements.
CM Ashok Gehlot has proved to be a much more formidable opponent with a better grip on MLAs and ground knowledge than Kamal Nath in Madhya Pradesh. Swift political maneuvers by Gehlot have applied brakes to the BJP’s ambition to win back Rajasthan riding on Pilot’s rebellion. Not only did Gehlot reduce Sachin’s promised numbers but also forced the Congress’ hand against the Tonk MLA.
The BJP’s assessment is that 19 Congress MLAs are not enough to topple the Gehlot government.
BJP’s own inaction
In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP top brass negotiated a deal with Scindia without looking over its shoulder but in Rajasthan, the state BJP unit is not fertile for Sachin Pilot if he decides to join the saffron party.
BJP’s Rajasthan unit is ridden with factions where Vasundhara Raje, LoP Gulab Chand Kataria, Jal Shakti minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and state unit chief Satish Poonia are four power centres. None of them would want Sachin Pilot to make a lateral entry into the BJP.
BJP members of party president JP Nadda’s team admit that Vasundhra Raje who was sidelined until now may not respond with euphoria about Pilot either joining BJP or becoming an ally and she may see BJP’s dealings with Pilot as an attempt to undermine her further. She has battled factions against her in the party, RSS elements in the state and even the Modi-Shah duo.
Also, Raje turned 67 this year and by 2023, she would be 70. Since the retirement age for public office fixed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is 75, she feels good for another five-year term in Rajasthan. A leader close to Raje said, “Pilot is already impatient to be chief minister. If he joins BJP or allies with us in 2023, his ambition would have multiplied and that would make him a challenger to Raje.”
Which way will Pilot steer?
Over the last few days, Sachin Pilot has reminded Congress about his fight since 2013 against the Vasundhara Raje-led BJP government in Rajasthan.
He has mentioned that his campaign for 2018 was based on cornering Raje over a slew of land and mining deals and Gehlot did not pursue the cases as chief minister. Pilot’s men have claimed that Raje, when in power, had allotted a Sarkari bungalow to herself And Gehlot pushed officials to challenge her ouster from the bungalow in the Supreme Court.
There are also claims of a cozy rivalry between Ashok Gehlot and Jyotiraditya Scindia.
Considering that Sachin Pilot’s USP is his popularity in Rajasthan’s dominant Gurjar community, BJP fears his induction may hurt the delicate caste balance the party has managed in the state.
With so many complications, the BJP is wary that any attempt to bring in Sachin Pilot may lead to protests within its own ranks.