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BJP’s social engineering in Rajasthan — why the party chose Bhajanlal Sharma as CM

In October, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chose Bhajanlal Sharma, a Brahmin, to fight from the party’s Sanganer bastion, there were protests and pushback from sitting MLA Ashok Lahoti’s Vaishya community.

But according to sources, it was no accident that Bhajanlal — the party’s four-time general secretary and now the BJP’s first Brahmin Chief Minister in Rajasthan since Hari Dev Joshi in 1990 — was chosen to contest from the seat. It wasn’t just aimed at marking a “generational change”, said sources, but was also an act of social engineering done with an eye firmly on next year’s general elections.

The gambit worked. The 56-year-old Sharma, a first-time MLA, beat Pushpendra Bhardwaj of the Congress by over 48,000 votes.

According to sources, Brahmins are the third-most numerically strong community in Rajasthan after Jats and Rajputs. They constitute 8 percent of the state’s population, adding that they hold sway over 30 assembly seats.

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With the 2024 Lok Sabha elections looming, the sources said the party sees Brahmins as major influencers and key to its Hindutva push in the Hindi heartland, especially in light of the inauguration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya scheduled for January.

But a senior BJP leader from Rajasthan, who wished not to be named, said it was a political necessity to pick a Brahmin CM because of “competing caste interests” in Rajasthan.

“In Rajasthan, Gurjars and Meenas have a conflict, so the party can’t name either a Gurjar or a Meena CM. Jats have some reservations with the state’s Rajputs. Vasundhara Raje served as chief minister because she branded herself as a Jat bahu.” he said. “So the only caste-neutral community in Rajasthan are the Brahmins.”

But it’s not only the CM’s position where the BJP’s strategy to balance caste equations is at play with an eye on 2024. It can also be seen in the party’s deputy CM choices — Diya Kumari, a Rajput, and Prem Chand Bairwa, a Dalit leader.

According to the party estimates, Rajputs form 9 percent of Rajasthan’s population and, within the SC/ST block, Dalits account for 17 percent.

What also worked in Bhajanlal Sharma’s favour, according to party leaders, is his association with the Sangh Parivar and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) since 1990. Bhajanlal, a former student activist with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) who eventually joined the BJP Yuva Morcha and even became its president, has served as general secretary under four state BJP chiefs — Ashok Parnami, Madan Lal Saini, Satish Poonia, and the incumbent C.P. Joshi.

In 2010, when the now BJP president J.P. Nadda visited Bharatpur for a religious event, Bhajanlal was the party’s district president and helped organize the tour, party sources said. Likewise, he also worked with Union Minister Amit Shah on the BJP’s 2021 election campaign in West Bengal, they added.

According to BJP MLA Kalicharan Saraf, Bhajanlal has “good chemistry with former chief minister Vasundhara Raje and became a consensus choice for the party.”

“He served during the tenures of Ashok Parnami and Madan Saini — a Vasundhara man. He even continued during Satish Poonia’s tenure and wasn’t removed even when C.P. Joshi was made Rajasthan BJP chief in March this year,” Saraf, told an MLA from Rajasthan’s Malviya Nagar

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