WHILE ACCUSING the BJP of conspiring to try and topple his government in 2020, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot Sunday heaped praise on three BJP leaders.
The leading name in the list – as Gehlot accused the BJP of offering money to get Congress MLAs to cross over – was Gehlot’s predecessor as CM, Vasundhara Raje. With insinuations of a “friendship” between her and Gehlot often used by their rivals against them, Raje issued a vehement denial of the Congress CM’s claim that she had helped save his government. She accused him of having “insulted” her by even suggesting this.
The other two BJP MLAs whom Gehlot mentioned as having refused to take part in the “horsetrading” attempts by the BJP were Kailash Meghwal and Shobharani Kushwaha. There has been no statement from either on Gehlot’s remarks.
Meghwal, 89, is the senior most politician in the Rajasthan Assembly and a known loyalist of Raje. A former MP, minister and multiple-time legislator, Meghwal was the Speaker of the Assembly between 2013 and 2018, in Raje’s second term as CM.
In the last five years, when the BJP in Rajasthan has been caught up in a power struggle, with Raje on one side and several state leaders with chief ministerial ambitions on the other, Meghwal has often taken a stand contrary to that of the party.
In fact, like Gehlot said during his speech in Dholpur – which is Raje’s turf – Meghwal had spoken out against horsetrading during the 2020 political crisis faced by the Congress government. Gehlot had seized on it at the time too, to thank Meghwal.
The statement was a big embarrassment for the BJP then, as it maintained that there was no truth to Gehlot’s allegations of the party trying to topple his government, and that it was entirely a result of the feud between the CM and his then deputy, Sachin Pilot.
Later, in September 2021, Meghwal was among 20 MLAs loyal to Raje who wrote to BJP higher-ups alleging bias in Assembly proceedings. The MLAs sent letters to both BJP president Satish Poonia and national president J P Nadda, with Meghwal threatening to move a censure motion against senior BJP leader and the then Leader of Opposition Gulab Chand Kataria.
(Recently, Kataria, who is known to share a frosty relationship with Raje, was moved out of Rajasthan as the Governor of Assam.)
The BJP cannot afford to treat Meghwal lightly. Despite his advanced age, his influence can be gauged by the fact that in the 2018 Assembly elections, his victory margin from his seat Shahpura was the highest for any politician, across all parties.
Recently, CM Gehlot made Meghwal’s stronghold Shahpura a new district.
Kushwaha, 44, was present at the programme where Gehlot spoke on Sunday.
Her husband B L Kushwaha, an influential leader of the region, was the BSP MLA from Dholpur when he was convicted of murder in 2016 and sentenced to life imprisonment. A year later, Kushwaha joined the BJP, ahead of by-elections to fill the Dholpur seat now vacant. She was inducted into the party by Raje, who was then the CM.
Kushwaha went on to win the seat. A year later, in the 2018 Assembly elections, she retained the seat, contesting on a BJP ticket.
In the 2022 Rajya Sabha elections, Kushwaha was alleged to have cross-voted, in favour of Congress candidate Pramod Tiwari. After the BJP suspended her for seven years, she hit back saying that it was the BJP which had approached her in 2017 after “destroying” her family.
In perhaps an indication that she would be leaving the party, Kushwaha said, “Any politician’s wajood (existence) is from their workers, and our workers have themselves decided that they do not want to be in a party whose national leaders work to defeat their own candidates.”
In his speech, Gehlot Sunday said: “Shobharaniji ne jab saath diya hamara, bahut boldly, toh Bhajpa-walon ki hawaiyan udh gayin. Shobharaniji ne, doosra Vasundharaji Scindia ne, aur teesra Kailash Meghwal ne… (Shobharaniji supported us, very boldly, rattling the BJP. She helped, secondly Vasundharaji, third Meghwal).”