Rumblings in Rajasthan Congress as Gehlot set to be party president

Will Congress be able to keep its flock together after Gehlot's departure to Delhi, or Gehlot and his followers allow Sachin Pilot to become the CM?
Last Updated 23 September 2022, 06:14 IST

The shaky truce that had existed for the past two years between the warring factions of former Rajasthan deputy CM Sachin Pilot and CM Ashok Gehlot might soon be in jeopardy in the wake of the upcoming elections for the post of the Congress national president.

Gehlot becoming the Congress president or his exit from the chief ministership has implications for the party's state unit, sharply divided into two camps. After 71-year-old Gehlot's departure, the challenge of keeping its flock of MLAs together and maintaining unity in the party in the run-up to the 2023 Assembly polls will confront the Congress in Rajasthan.

"The state's Congress will crumble if Gehlot leaves the CM post. He is the only one who has brought everyone together and made the party sail through the political crisis of 2020. If Sachin Pilot could hold the post of deputy CM and the Pradesh Congress Committee president's post till 2020, why can't Gehlot hold both the posts?" asked a senior Congress leader close to Gehlot.

He shared his concerns about the next polls: "Gehlot is the reason the independent MLAs are supporting us. He was the one who brought the BSP's six MLAs into the Congress camp and made the party strong," the leader said. Sanyam Lodha, an Independent MLA, a supporter of Gehlot, has said that Gehlot should be allowed to be the Congress president without relinquishing his chief ministership.

According to party insiders, if Sachin Pilot becomes Rajasthan's next chief minister, it would be unacceptable for Gehlot, who was instrumental in his removal as the deputy CM and the PCC chief in 2020. "If Pilot gets the CM post, he might reshuffle the cabinet and have a say in the ticket distribution in the 2023 polls. Gehlot will not let this happen," another Congress leader said. In the recent Congress legislative party meeting, Gehlot told his MLAs that he would continue to care for Rajasthan even if he went to Delhi.

If Gehlot decides not to surrender to his rival Pilot, then the options for the CMs post in Rajasthan include former union minister 72-year-old C P Joshi, currently the speaker of the Assembly. Another option could be for the Congress to deploy its Punjab strategy to elevate a lesser-known candidate hailing from one of the key castes to the chief ministerial post. In Punjab, the Congress replaced Amarinder Singh with Charanjit Singh Channi, projecting him as the state's first Dalit CM.

When the Congress won the state in 2018, 45-year-old Sachin Pilot (45) was promised that the chief ministerial chair would be shared between him and the senior leader. However, showing his unhappiness with the deputy CM post, Pilot rebelled in 2020 along with his 18 loyalist MLAs who went to Delhi and camped for over a month, which resulted in a political crisis in Rajasthan. He was removed from the post of deputy CM and PCC chief.

A month later, the Congress high command intervened, and Pilot agreed to end the rebellion. The party formed a three-member committee, comprising Ahmed Patel, K C Venugopal and Ajay Maken, to present their report on the issues highlighted by Pilot. However, not much progress has been made since then.

On the other hand, the MLAs in the Pilot camp are hopeful to see a change of guard, which the party has been delaying for the last four years. The constant tussle between the two camps has often resulted in the Congress MLAs taking potshots at each other and their party leaders.

"If not now, then when? The party performed well in 2018 under the leadership of Sachin Pilot, who helped it rise from 21 seats to 100 seats. He deserves the CM post, which will impact the elections next year," a Congress MLA from the Pilot said. Rajasthan SC commission chief, Congress MLA Khiladi Lal Bairwa has openly supported Pilot, appealing to Gehlot to give the younger generation a chance.

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 (RLD) one. The Assembly has 13 independent legislators.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in Rajasthan)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

(Published 23 September 2022, 06:06 IST)

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