BJP leader Satish Poonia, 58, is the new Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Rajasthan Assembly. He was the party’s Rajasthan unit chief until recently. A party worker to the core, he has an RSS background and is considered close to the Sangh Parivar. He is the MLA from the Amber constituency in Jaipur.
In an interview with Yash Goyal, Poonia talked about the BJP’s achievements under his leadership as the state unit chief and the saffron party’s prospects in the coming Assembly elections in the state. Excerpts:
Q. What are your achievements as the BJP chief in the state?
A: From Jan Sangh to BJP, we focus on three main tasks; organisational structure, creative work and agitation (when in Opposition) or governance (when in power). The state unit has gone from Pradesh to Zilla and Mandal levels. The party has considered every booth in the constituency as one unit. Out of a total of 52,000 booths, the party has set up 50,000 booth units. In another campaign on the pattern of the Gujarat model, the party’s objective was to appoint 10 lakh ‘Panna Pramukhs’, of which 60 per cent has been achieved. During the Corona pandemic, the party reached two crore people with ration, food and medical treatment successfully. On the agitation front, the party opposed the Congress rule inside and outside the Legislative Assembly on the farmers’ loan issue, unemployment, paper leak and deteriorating law order at every district level. Seven frontal organisations, including those of women, OBCs, SCs/STs and minorities in each district, are the backbone of the party. In the recently held Jan Aakrosh Yatra, party men travelled 5 lakh km and reached up to 2 crore people in all 200 constituencies to show public resentment against the state government and to gather feedback on the antiincumbency factor against the Gehlot government. I can claim that these would be the main causes for power change in the Assembly elections due later this year, and Congress would not be able to counter us. The BJP’s Jan Aakrosh Yatra was a rehearsal of the election campaign as we reached nearly 40,000 villages and covered all Assembly constituencies.
For the 2023 Assembly and 2024 LS polls, the party has deputed ‘Vistaraks’ who will verify each unit at the booth level.
Q. In Rajasthan, there are many Opposition parties like CPI(M), RLD, RLP, BTP, Independents and the AAP which are entering the poll fray. How does the BJP expect a two-thirds majority in this situation in upcoming Assembly polls? At present, the BJP has only 70 of the 200 seats in the Assembly.
A: In the 2003 and 2013 Assembly polls results, the BJP had come to power with an absolute majority as compared to the Congress party that was short of a majority in the 2008 and 2018 polls. The voters had not discarded us in the 2018 polls and we had lost by a gap of 0.5 per cent votes, which means a difference of 1.5 lakh voters against the Congress. There could be some lacunae in ticket distribution and the party has analysed the results. The people of Rajasthan change the government every five years. The second important reason is that the public has already expressed their resentment against the present government. I claim that this time the BJP would return to power based on its organisational power with a comfortable majority of 150 seats in a House of 200. If we take into account our Lok Sabha poll-2019 performance on all 25 seats (one with RLP) in the state, the victory figure in the upcoming polls could be up to 175. No other party can dare to split our votes.
Q. The ‘Ghar Vapsi’ of some prominent leaders to the party fold is awaited though BJP’s Union ministers from Rajasthan are reluctant about the entry of some of them. What’s going on in the matter?
A. Besides the ‘Ghar Wapsi’ move, a number of bureaucrats, social engineers, and intellectuals want to join the saffron party. In principle, the party is likely to settle the issue soon. Those who are talented and have a name and identification in society will be welcomed from next month. In some exceptional cases, those who had left the party would be considered on merit and a consensus of senior leaders would be obtained to avoid controversy.
Q. It is often said that there are four to five groups working in the BJP, and all want to see the head of their group as the chief minister. What do you have to say?
A. People generally try to compare the minor things in the BJP with the Congress party’s major happenings, which is not appropriate. In 2018 at the oath ceremony of Ashok Gehlot as CM, slogans were raised in favour of Sachin Pilot. There were tussles over the Ministry formation, and distribution of rooms in the secretariat, and thereafter for 52 days, the Congress MLAs and ministers had to go under ‘Barabandi” at a resort. The CM had to dismiss his Deputy CM, the PCC president, and two ministers from the government. Last year, 81 Congress MLAs, including ministers, tendered their resignations to the Speaker when the AICC called a CLP meeting in September. Thus, it was the weakness of the Congress High Command that it did not address the problems at the right time. The BJP’s high command is not like Congress’s high command. The party’s parliamentary board is equally strong and takes tough decisions easily. Whatever is decided at a higher level is acceptable to everyone. Our mission is to win the polls with a comfortable majority because we lost Rajasthan in 2018 by a narrow margin. Q. Vasundhara Raje has been the CM twice, why can’t the election be contested for a third time under her leadership? A. I told you, anyone can be CM. The Parliamentary Board has to decide the name, which could be a new name or an old one. The party has not drawn a line on it. One thing has to be understood, the party would contest the Assembly polls collectively in Rajasthan in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s name and his work. The party would not project any name or face for the leadership in the state Assembly elections. Q. What do you have to say about the much-publicised budget of the Congress government in Rajasthan in the election year? A: As compared to all previous Congress governments, the Ashok Gehlot government’s performance in the current term is the worst. There is something called governance which has been totally finished in the state.
Q. The Gehlot government is accusing the central government of not cooperating on major schemes like Eastern Rajasthan Canal Project (ERCP), Old Pension Scheme (OPS), and sanctions on Pachpadra Refinery. What will be the stand of the BJP on these issues in the elections?
A: They think they will be able to mislead the people by spreading confusion on such topics, I don’t think there will be any atmosphere in their favour due to the Old Pension Scheme (OPS). They weaponised it, but it won’t work. Our party has to take its decision on OPS. A team of Karnataka bureaucrats had come to Jaipur for a survey and study of OPS. There are many technical, financial and economic points linked to OPS. The Finance Minister had clarified the pros and cons of the OPS against the New Pension Scheme (NPS) which is prevalent in the country.
Q. BJP senior leader G C Kataria, who was the Leader of the Opposition, is now the Governor of Assam. Is there any possibility of filling up the LoP’s position in the Assembly now?
A: The party high command is aware of the matter and they have to decide on the new LoP. Since this is an election year, it might take time.
Q. How do you look at the Ashok Gehlot vs Sachin Pilot tug of war in the Congress for the CM’s chair?
A: The Congress party used to say that it is their internal matter but the people are upset due to the quarrel in their house. The infighting between the two leaders in the last 4.5 years has tarnished the image of the Congress party and that has affected the governance in the state causing instability and resentment against the Congress in public at large which was visible in our Jan Aakrosh Yatra.