From Third-Row Right To Rajasthan Chief Minister

New Delhi:

The BJP on Tuesday unveiled first-time MLA Bhajanlal Sharma as the new Rajasthan Chief Minister, completing a hat-trick of left field picks to lead states it won last month. If naming Mohan Yadav – Madhya Pradesh’s outgoing Higher Education Minister – and Vishnu Deo Sai – a former Union Minister – caused consternation, Mr Sharma’s elevation caught everyone completely off-guard.

In fact, in a group photo of the newly elected MLAs, Mr Sharma is not seated in the front row, or the second. He is standing in a corner of the third, most inconspicuous and nearly out of shot. Reports indicate he was in the background even at the meeting this evening to finalise his appointment.

READ | Bhajanlal Sharma, First-Time MLA, Is BJP’s Rajasthan Chief Minister

To dismiss Mr Sharma as a complete unknown is unfair, for he is one of the BJP’s longest-serving leaders in Rajasthan and was thrice the General Secretary of the party’s state unit.

He began his political career in BJP’s student wing – the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad – and was associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the party’s ideological mentor.

That said, Mr Sharma – who duly thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and party boss JP Nadda, the centre of power in the BJP – was undoubtedly a surprise pick.

Who Is Bhajanlal Sharma?

Mr Sharma won the Sanganer seat, but he is not from the area. He hails from Bharatpur, which has never really been a happy hunting ground for the party. The Rashtriya Lok Dal won this seat in each of the last two polls. The BJP did hold it in 2008 and 2013 but those wins followed a 36-year drought.

Sanganer, by contrast, is a BJP stronghold; the party has held this seat since 2003 and has won it in eight of 10 Assembly elections since 1977, when it was formed. In fact, in each of the past three state polls, the BJP has never won less than 50 per cent of the votes in this seat.

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That Mr Sharma, in his debut election, was fielded from a safe seat has raised eyebrows, with some suggesting his becoming Chief Minister may have been planned by the BJP from the start.

His becoming Chief Minister has also been pitched as the BJP’s good practice of rewarding hard workers. A grinning brother-in-law, Pramod Sharma, told news agency ANI, “You can see… BJP has given such a huge responsibility to an ordinary worker. This is what the BJP does… elevate ordinary workers to big posts. He will carry out his responsibility very well. We had not expected this.”

Mr Sharma is from the Brahmin community, which accounts for about seven per cent of Rajasthan’s population and, including those from neighbouring states like Uttar Pradesh, form a major chunk of upper class, or ‘general category’, voters that are the crux of the BJP’s support in this part of India.

Rajasthan Deputy Chief Ministers

The BJP has also named two deputies for Mr Sharma – picks that, alongside his own, underline the caste/class arithmetic foremost in the party’s mind before next year’s Lok Sabha election.

Ex-Lok Sabha MP Diya Kumari, who quit Parliament after winning last month’s poll, is one of the deputies. A member of the former Jaipur royal family, Ms Kumari fits multiple bills for the BJP – a Rajput face in a state that is dominated by the community, and a woman. The other deputy is Prem Chand Bairwa, a member of the Dalit community that makes up over 16 per cent of India’s population, and whose elevation gives the BJP a positive campaign platform for next year.

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