Rajasthan in 2020: Pilot’s rebellion shakes Congress

Rajasthan in 2020: Pilot’s rebellion shakes Congress, state sees 'resort politics'

The first case of coronavirus in the state was detected in March

Congress leader Sachin Pilot. Credit: PTI.

The coronavirus pandemic might have been the one claiming lives, but for weeks in 2020 Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s main battle seemed to be with the enemy within.

A rebellion by former Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot, who was also the state Congress president, appeared to have brought his government in Rajasthan on the brink of collapse.

Gehlot got the Congress MLAs loyal to him to hole up together, first at a hotel on the outskirts of the state capital and then at another resort in Jaisalmer, keeping them away from the alleged temptation to switch over to the rebels.

Every MLA, including the two from the Bharatiya Tribal Party and independents, counted then. But later in the year, the BTP withdrew support to the ruling Congress, accusing it of ditching it during the election to the zila pramukh’s post in Dungarpur district.

This was also part of the panchayat polls in which the Congress suffered an unexpected setback.

The first case of coronavirus in the state was detected in March. An Italian couple, part of a 23-member tourist group, tested positive, triggering a massive contact tracing exercise across travel destinations in Rajasthan and in Agra.

In the early days of the pandemic, the state earned praise nationwide for the “Bhilwara model” of “ruthless containment”, which included screening 24 lakh people for symptoms and sealing the district’s borders. But the state’s initial efforts at containing the virus in Jaipur’s walled city weren’t that successful.

Altogether, over three lakh people have tested positive for the virus in the state and about 2,700 died so far.

Going by the trend in Rajasthan, the party in power wins the elections to Panchayati Raj Institutions. But the results this year in 21 districts went against expectations of the barely two-year-old Congress government.

The BJP won 1,989 out of the 4,371 seats in 222 panchayat samitis and the ruling party 1,850. Of the 636 zila parishads seats, the BJP got 353 and the Congress 253.

The BJP ended up controlling 13 of the 21 district boards, the Congress just five. The BJP and the Congress headed 98 panchayat samitis each out of the 222.

The results came amid the protests by farmers, mainly from Punjab and Haryana, at Delhi’s borders against the Centre’s three new agri-marketing laws. The Narendra Modi government claimed that the results of these, largely rural elections, showed that the farmers are still with it.

“This is a farmers’ mandate and a vote for farm reforms,” Union minister Prakash Javadekar said.

A few days later, in the elections to 50 urban local bodies, the Congress did much better, beating the BJP as expected.

Earlier in November, the Rajasthan Assembly passed three Bills of its own to “counter” the central laws, a largely symbolic gesture meant to show support for the protests. They are yet to get the Governor’s assent.

Farmer groups in Rajasthan have been blocking the Delhi-Jaipur national highway at Shahjahpur in support of those protesting at Delhi’s borders. But compared to the protests by Punjab and Haryana farmers, this appears to be a token gesture.

The state’s Gurjar community too resorted to an agitation this year, blocking rail tracks in Bharatpur on the Delhi-Mumbai route.

They demanded reservation for them in government jobs and educational institutes enshrined in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution. The stir led by Kirori Singh Bainsla lasted over 10 days.

Two years after quitting the BJP over difference with former chief minister Vasundhra Raje, Rajasthan stalwart Ghanshyam Tiwari returned to the party-fold in December. But Nagaur MP Hanuman Beniwal’s Rashtriya Loktrantik Party has withdrawn support, citing the farm laws.

The Congress won two Rajya Sabha seats from Rajasthan during the biennial elections to the Upper House. But not without some drama.

Going by the numbers, the Congress was set to win two seats and BJP one from the state. But when the BJP fielded a second candidate, the Congress feared that it was planning to poach its MLAs and encourage cross-voting. Ashok Gehlot shifted all Congress MLAs to a resort for eight days, ahead of the polling.

This proved to be a precursor to more “resort politics” later in the year.

Sachin Pilot, upset since being denied the chief minister’s in 2018, staged a rebellion in July. Including him, 19 Congress MLAs stayed away from legislative party meetings, defying the chief minister and the party.

Gehlot lodged his loyalists at hotels till the time the party leadership in Delhi intervened and Pilot gave up the revolt. The CM won a trust vote in the assembly.

But even getting Governor Kalraj Mishra to summon the assembly session for the vote of confidence involved high theatrics, with loyalist Congress MLAs at one point occupying the lawns of the Raj Bhawan for about five hours.

Gehlot accused the BJP of engineering the month-long crisis but he minced no words when speaking about Pilot, who was sacked from his posts in the state government and the party after the rebellion. He described the rebel leader as “nikamma”, a derogatory Hindi word meaning “useless.”

But for now, the Gehlot-Pilot truce holds. When questioned recently by reporters, the CM said, “Forget and forgive.”