In Rajasthan, Congress and BJP have the same problem

In Rajasthan, Congress, BJP have the same problem: Unending factionalism

Dateline Jaipur

Congress leader Sachin Pilot and Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot. Credit: PTI Photo

With Assembly elections two years away in Rajasthan, the ruling Congress as well as the opposition BJP are scrambling to put their disunited houses in order. The high commands of both parties have given the state units clear instructions to display a united front and end factionalism. Yet, even as the parties face by-polls to two Assembly seats in late October, it is easier said than done.

At its first by-poll rally last week, the Congress did attempt to display a united front -- with a photograph featuring Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, Congress leader Sachin Pilot, state party chief Govind Singh Dotasara and party leader Ajay Maken campaigning together. But the Gehlot-Pilot rivalry and its undercurrent of tensions remain.

After the party affected the leadership change in Punjab, there was anticipation that the high command would act decisively to end the factionalism in Rajasthan, too. The expectations heightened after Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra met Pilot twice within a week. There was talk of the much-anticipated cabinet expansion or even a change of guard. A second rumour that did the rounds was of Pilot being put in charge of the party in Gujarat, which goes to Assembly polls in late 2022. Neither came to pass.

Instead, Gehlot and his former deputy chief minister Pilot made statements betraying the continuing game of one-upmanship between them. Gehlot recently asserted that not only would his government complete its term but that the party would also return to power in the next election, adding for good measure that he was himself “ready to serve people for another 15-20 years.” Not to be outdone, Pilot responded by saying that he wasn’t going anywhere from Rajasthan “for another 50 years.”

Senior Congress leaders, however, tried to see the situation differently. “Amidst their rivalry, the two are focusing on the party’s victory in the upcoming by-elections, indicating that the internal differences have lessened. The situation in Rajasthan is different from that in Punjab. Gehlot still enjoys the support of the majority of MLAs,” one senior leader told DH.

Two recent developments indicate that the high command is doing a high-wire act to keep both factions happy. In the first move, Rajasthan Health Minister Raghu Sharma has been given the task of gathering the party’s forces in Gujarat for the 2022 polls in that state. In 2018, Gehlot was in charge of Gujarat when the party gave the BJP a tough fight. Putting Sharma, the party’s Brahmin face and known to be close to Gehlot, in charge now is being seen as making Gehlot the backseat driver in Gujarat.

In another move, however, Rahul Gandhi was seen to be trying to keep Pilot happy by making him part of his four-member team to visit Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh to meet the victims of the recent violence there.

Meanwhile, in the BJP, the infighting between the Vasundhara Raje faction and the state party chief Satish Poonia is an open secret. The in-fighting in the BJP unit dates back to the 2018 Assembly elections. After losing the elections, Raje was sidelined by the central leadership.

The BJP has since been working to tamp down the constant infighting between Raje and Poonia’s factions. Over the past few months, many in the state unit have accused Raje of running a ‘parallel system’, including Covid welfare initiatives, that was designed to prop her up, not the party.

The factionalism has worried the BJP enough for its national general secretary (organisation) B L Santosh to issue a stern warning during the recent two-day Chintan Shivir in Kumbhalgarh, directing the leaders to focus on strengthening the party.

Raje’s supporters have been demanding that the party project her as the chief ministerial candidate for the 2023 election. Poonia has refused to let this happen.

In January, Raje’s supporters created the ‘Vasundhara Raje Samarthak Manch Rajasthan’, and demanded that she be named the party’s chief ministerial face for the 2023 elections. In August, the Manch launched an office in Jaipur’s Sanganer area, causing a murmur within the party.

Such public statements and moves by the party leaders have not only exposed the factionalism in the party, they have also put the BJP in a tight spot. In June, BJP Rajasthan in-charge Arun Singh had warned the state party leaders that strict action would be taken against those running factions in the party. But the party is in no position to take such action.

Speaking about the Chintan Shivir, Poonia told DH, “We are focused on strengthening the party to ensure that we come to power in 2023. The decision on the CM candidate will be taken by the party”.

The litmus test for the ‘united house’ efforts by both parties will be the results of the two by-polls to be held this month-end.

The by-elections to the Vallabhnagar seat in Udaipur district and the Dhariawad seat in Pratapgarh district will be held on October 30, and the results will be known on November 2. The by-polls became necessary following the deaths of the Congress MLA from Vallabhnagar, Gajendra Singh Shaktawat, and BJP MLA from Dhariawad, Gautam Lal Meena.

The Congress has fielded Gajendra Singh’s wife Preeti Shaktawat from Vallabhnagar, and Nagraj Meena for the Dhariawad seat. The BJP has given the respective tickets to Rajput leader Himmat Singh Jhala and Khet Singh Meena, district president of its Scheduled Tribe Morcha in Dhariawad.

In the Assembly of 200 seats, the ruling Congress has 106 MLAs, the BJP 71, the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) three, the CPI(M) and Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) two each, and the Rashtriya Lok Dal one. The Assembly has 13 independent legislators.

DHNS

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