To sack or not to sack: BJP's Vasundhara Raje dilemma explained
- The BJP has gone silent on the Lalit Modi-Vasundhara Raje controversy. Neither PM Modi nor Amit Shah have said anything.
- The party is confused on what to do with Raje, hence the silence.
- Backing her would undermine PM Modi\'s anti-corruption plank. Removing her would harm BJP in Rajasthan.
- Raje has the backing of 115 out of 160 BJP MLAs in Rajasthan. She may rebel if asked to resign.
- Her removal could open the floodgates for allegations against other BJP leaders and chief ministers.
- The govt is likely to face the music in the Monsoon Session as Opposition is all set to corner it on the Lalit Modi issue.
Pushed to the wall on the Vasundhara Raje-Lalit Modi nexus, the BJP has gone on silent mode. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said nothing, which has given rise to jokes that he can be as silent as his predecessor Dr Manmohan Singh, when caught in a sticky spot.
Confused BJP in silent mode
The official statements coming from the party are smaller that tweets. "No minister is tainted," said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. Union Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and Urban Development M Venkaiah Naidu, was equally curt: "there is no crisis in the BJP".
The silence stems from the fact that the party is caught in a difficult dilemma on what needs to be done with Raje. Her continuation in office harms Modi's promise of zero tolerance towards corruption. But removing her could mean destroying the BJP in Rajasthan, especially as she is supposed to have the backing of 115 out of the party's 160 MLAs in the state.
Party sources reveal that a senior RSS leader had a one-on-one meeting with Raje, during which she made it clear that she has no intention of stepping down. The Sangh leader has supposedly conveyed Raje's view to the RSS top brass in Nagpur as well as BJP president Amit Shah.
On the other hand, the fact that neither PM Modi nor BJP president Amit Shah met her during her visit to Delhi on Saturday was seen as a snub and sparked rumours in the media that she might be on her way out.
She came to Delhi, attended the NITI Ayog meeting, and flew back. This gave rise to speculation that the BJP leadership is acting tough and Raje "didn't even get a chance to explain".
However, it seems that the BJP is confused. On Friday evening, PM Modi met Jaitley and Shah. Apparently, the discussions were on the party's strategy to handle the crisis in Rajasthan.
What goes in Raje's favour
A senior party leader says that the media has drawn a wrong inference from Saturday's events. "She was advised not to meet as it would have sent the message that she was asked to clarify. It's simple: no fault, no clarification," the leader said.
Raje, on her part, has been adamant that there is no question of her resigning. The BJP MLAs in Rajasthan as well as the party's state unit were quick to throw their weight behind her. On Thursday, the Rajasthan BJP chief Ashok Parnami and party MLA Rajendra Rathore addressed a press conference making their stand clear that they are firmly backing the chief minister. This has made it even more difficult for the party leadership to act against her.
Even MLAs who might be open to backing an alternative CM, are too afraid to speak. They are well aware that past attempts at dislodging Raje not only failed, those behind the moves had to suffer the consequences.
Raje's resignation would increase the pressure on Swaraj, Irani and other BJP CMs who are facing the heat
Even if she is asked to resign, with an overwhelming majority of MLAs behind her, she can split the party in the state and still retain the CM's chair. A rebellion in Rajasthan is something the party cannot afford.
Moreover even if she resigns, the Opposition's belligerence won't be buried in the sands of Rajasthan. Other chief minister could be at the receiving end of similar campaigns. "Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan is facing the heat in connection with the Vyapam scam. The rice scam can be used against Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh. BJP can't go about removing CMs just because of the Opposition and media," says a RSS leader.
Raje's resignation would also increase the pressure to remove Sushma Swaraj and Smriti Irani.
What goes against her
But even if Raje survives this term as CM, the controversy may harm her career in a long ter m sense. Her survival is largely courtesy the majority she enjoys in the Vidhan Sabha. An adverse verdict in the next Assembly polls, and the knives would be out.
However, the RSS isn't entirely convinced on backing Raje. RSS never liked her, especially because of the way she stood against the RSS faces in the state - from Bhairon Singh Shekhawat to Ghanshyam Tiwari.
"RSS is not backing her. PM Modi and Amit Shah are also not backing her. No action has been taken so far, as the BJP is calculating the damage in case she revolts. The party and RSS are clear in their intention to avoid damaging their image any further," explains one RSS source.
It isn't just the Congress that is capitalising on the BJP's woes to gain mileage. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has hinted that he will target Raje and other 'tainted' BJP leaders in the run-up to the Bihar elections.
"Gone are the days when LK Advani resigned after his name came up in a Hawala diary and kept himself away from politics until his name was cleared. Modi has a room full of tainted leaders and he is doing nothing about it," Kumar said.
Even the Aam Aadmi Party is planning to launch a nationwide campaign against the BJP's 'acts of corruption'.
The Opposition was divided on Sushma Swaraj's resignation and the Congress was isolated. But during the Monsoon Session, the Opposition may stand united to put the government on the mat.