Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp have proved to be one of the most potent weapons for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Whether it’s attacking opposition parties or furthering the saffron party’s propaganda, these social media platforms have consistently come in handy—especially with elections around the corner.
Of the five poll-bound states, three are BJP-governed, so the stakes are high. While the BJP’s Twitter handles and Facebook pages for Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh have been putting forward the party’s development plank and targeting the Congress party, a tweet on November 6 brought some embarrassment for the BJP. Among several tweets put out by the Rajasthan BJP official Twitter handle on Tuesday was a birthday wish for former union minister Yashwant Sinha.
The same poster was put up on its Facebook page, BJP4Rajasthan. The embarrassing part is that it referred to Sinha as “senior BJP leader” and not former BJP leader. This could have been overlooked as a gaffe by the BJP’s IT cell for the state. But remember, Sinha is no common political leader. He’s been a vocal defector of the Narendra Modi government and has often left the Modi-Amit Shah duo red-faced. So much so that senior party leaders maintain a distance from Sinha. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Sinha got involved in a bit of slugfest to the extent that Jaitley went on to term Sinha a “job applicant at 80.”
For the past several months, Sinha—along with Arun Shourie and the sitting BJP MP from Bihar, Shatrughan Sinha—has been openly attacking Prime Minister Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah. Sinha even put up a collective front against the Rafale aircraft deal and filed a complaint with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) seeking an investigation into it.
The BJP is not only in power in Rajasthan but also swept Lok Sabha seats in the state in 2014. The state will vote on December 7, and incumbent Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje is running on the risk of the anti-incumbency factor. Some opinion polls have indicated strong chances of a revival of the Congress party in the state. Interestingly, Raje is often seen as close to the camp of LK Advani, who has been reduced to a leader of no consequences. Sinha too was part of the legacy leaders who have been sidelined under Shah’s leadership.
So, the Facebook post and tweet for Sinha have triggered a question: is the Rajasthan BJP taking a different line from that of the Shah brigade? If yes, is it a declaration of war by the Raje camp right ahead of the assembly polls? Or is it merely a mistake by the social media team?
The state BJP leaders have tried to underplay the tweet as an “error” by the IT cell, and IT cell leaders maintained a similar line. Speaking to Newslaundry, Rajasthan IT cell in-charge Hirendra Kaushik said, “It is part of our party culture to send out wishes to political leaders and opponents. We have released similar posts even for opposition leaders such as Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot.” He added, “Yashwant Sinha has been a senior party leader and a guiding force, and there is nothing unusual about the post.”
However, when asked about referring to Sinha as a “senior BJP leader”, Kaushik said, “It was an error on the part of IT cell members.” He said the state unit is yet to issue a clarification on the error.
While the state spokesperson stayed tight-lipped on the issue, state media coordinator Vimal Katiyar also maintained that it was an “error by the IT cell”. Katiyar first checked with the IT cell and later got back to Newslaundry, saying, “It was an error, but the IT cell team has been putting out similar posts even for opposition leaders. The media is unnecessarily reading too much into this tweet.”
Katiyar added: “There is no rift or differences in the party. The state leadership has been working in coordination with the central leadership, and there are no disputes.”
A party insider, on condition of anonymity, said, “The rifts are there, however, the Raje camp will not take the risk of bringing out such differences on a public platform. The tickets are yet to be distributed.” He said it was too early to say if the posts on Sinha were put out on social media owing to differences in the party. “She [Raje] does have a section of people in the IT cell too. But this analogy would make sense in a scenario where her lobby of leaders is left out during the ticket distribution process.”
Notably—unlike most of the BJP chief ministers—Raje, Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh don’t owe their previous victories solely to the Modi-Shah duo. The duo came into the picture only in the run-up to the 2014 general elections. A senior journalist who has been tracking politics, government and the BJP for decades now said, “There was a time when Raje’s men were in all the important posts in the Rajasthan unit. However, Amit Shah has one by one changed all important office-bearers and now, each of them is an appointee of the central leadership.” According to him, even though Raje continues to be the face of the BJP in Rajasthan, Shah has taken the party unit out of her grip.
Rajasthan will vote on December 7 and results will be announced on December 11. Till the time of filing this story, Rajasthan’s IT cell unit has not deemed it necessary to issue a correction or clarification on the post felicitating Sinha.