Vasundhara has a tough task both within and outside

Semi Column
After months of bitter infighting within the BJP, former chief minister Vasundhara Raje has had her way and been named the party's state president and CM candidate for the forthcoming Assembly polls.

However, the way ahead will be hard. She is no longer the Raje of 2003 who strutted to victory, with not just the masses but also the party rallying behind her. Above all the comforting tutelage of Rajasthan's "Babosa (head of the family)" Bhairon Singh Shekhawat had lent all her actions a sense of propriety.

Today, the same as in 2008 when the Raje government was thrown out of power, the former CM is in troubled waters.

Silenced for the moment, Raje's dissenters are not likely to stay quiet for long, particularly Gulab Chand Kataria, who is far from appeased at appointment as Leader of the Opposition when polls are just nine months away.

Besides, none in the BJP can deny that it has been rather weak-willed and voiceless in the past four years as the main opposition. This is despite the fact that its strength of 79 in the House was not far behind the Congress's 96.

All Raje needed to do under the circumstances was to ensure that the BJP retained its existing constituencies and won just about a dozen more. However, the tag rival parties had given her during her tenure "8 pm no CM" for her lack of visibility and approachability continues to stick. As leader of the opposition, she showed little regard for the post, even gave it up for a while, and did not raise any serious issues against the Congress government. For months together, in fact, she was missing from the state political scene.

However, there are still several distinct advantages that Raje enjoys. The allegations of corruption against her could never be proved while she remains a crowd puller. When she went out to campaign for Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, large crowds come to see Raje; the party also won in all those constituencies.

In the past four years too, whenever Raje did reach out to the masses, however sporadically, she was never disappointed. She is still the 'Maharani' for a state obsessed with its royalty. Being a woman in a state that grapples with women's issues also gives her an edge over her opponents. That she is the 'face of the party' and the only one who can turn its fate in Rajasthan also remains undoubted. What the BJP must be hoping now is that Raje keeps her promise and takes the party along as a "big family".

Sweta is a senior correspondent based in Jaipur

sweta.dutta@expressindia.com

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