After a few days’ break for Diwali, Vasundhara Raje—Rajasthan’s former chief minister and the first woman to have held the job—hit the campaign road again on 14 November. Her first ports of call were the constituencies of Chakshu and Bhagru, both Scheduled Caste reserved constituencies on the outskirts of the state capital Jaipur. Her campaign attracted a wider audience than many of her counterparts—such as the BJP’s senior-most leaders in other states such as Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, or Assam’s chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, whose usual draws were Islamophobic dog-whistles and rants about the weakening of Hindu society. Coming from Churu, deep into the Hadouti region that is Raje’s fiefdom, it was not a battalion of the Bajrang Dal or saffron-clad cadre waiting to meet her. It was a group of government-school teachers.
The group, about ten large, told me that they had been hired under temporary contracts and were seeking notification of their services—called regularisation in common parlance. “After she becomes the chief minister, she will have to see this done within one hundred days of her government,” one told me. It is not often electors can make demands so openly in front of senior leaders, but Raje enjoyed a certain natural rapport with her electorate much like the BJP’s other local satraps—Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh and BS Yediyurappa in Karnataka being the two most recently covered in the press. It was even less often BJP’s officials let such comments pass when they are a direct challenge to the diktat of the BJP’s top leadership in Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and party president JP Nadda, who determined that the election would be fought without a chief ministerial face.
More than just establish that the election would be fought under joint leadership—under the electoral symbol of the lotus alone—the BJP high command had gone further to diminish Raje’s presence in the campaign. Her name featured quite far down in the official list of star campaigners for the election, much lower than leaders with only a middling role in the success of the party. This was seen as particularly galling given that, in 2021, after major dissension broke out within the party’s state unit because of Raje being absent from party posters for three by-polls, Raje and her supporters were only assuaged after she was named a star campaigner, along with several union ministers from the state.
In this election cycle, many former legislators known to be Raje’s loyalists did not figure in the first list of tickets the party distributed. Some were only accommodated in the second and third list after a lot opposition was reported within the state BJP unit, while others have reportedly decided to fight the election as independents. In a seeming escalation of the diminishing of Raje’s role, she was not allowed to speak in Modi’s rally in Jaipur, in which she was on stage. Despite this, in my reporting, I saw throngs of people placing specific demands of her for when she would become chief minister, a conclusion they saw as foregone.