Congress Conceding Defeat in Rajasthan Much Ahead of Polls

4 Min
Congress Conceding Defeat in Rajasthan Much Ahead of Polls

Atul Cowshish

The open warfare between the Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and his former deputy, Sachin Pilot, has remained unresolved for months when the clock is about to tick for the state assembly polls next year. The recently-elected the ‘full-time’ Congress chief from outside the Nehru-Gandhi family, Maliikarjun Kharge, may have made some behind the scenes moves to end the ugly feud between the two Congress leaders in Rajasthan but they have made no visible difference on surface.

Earlier reports of reconciliation efforts having been made to end the differences between the two leaders proved to be wrong. Gehlot continued to hit out at Pilot; the latest salvo from Gehlot called Pilot a ‘traitor’ who, he said, was unworthy of being appointed chief minister of Rajasthan.

The continued display of bitterness by the two Rajasthan Congress leaders would normally be taken as a prelude to a split in the party which would call for celebrations in the rival BJP, despite rampant factionalism in the saffron party.

Advantage could go to the BJP because it is run by an iron hand that can ram its diktat down unwilling party leaders; the Congress has shown a propensity to lose winning battles–Punjab. Its decision making process is shoddy and enforcing decision a problem.   

Gehlot does have the support of a larger group of Congress MLAs though a Pilot group member, a minister to boot, claimed that 80 per cent of the MLAs in the 200-member state assembly support Pilot. The claim, patently exaggerated, was supposed to be in response to Gehlot’s invective.

The tussle between Gehlot and Pilot can be attributed to several reasons but the Congress ‘high command’ paid little attention to it in the beginning. It was perhaps thought to be no more than a case of a clash of ambitions or egos.

Gehlot is among the senior most Congress leaders in the state by virtue of which he has a firm foot in the state Congress. That is a ‘double engine’ advantage if it is true that he has good rapport with the Gandhis. The much younger Pilot, said to be close to Priyanka Gandhi, is more articulate, sophisticated and suave compared to his elder peer. Gehlot does not like a younger generation leader challenging his position because he is unlikely to be crowned again once it is handed over to a younger leader. He is not ready to reach the end of his political career.

If reports of the proximity of the two warring Congress leaders being close to one or the other Gandhi are true, the Congress leadership in Delhi faces a dilemma. On paper, it is for the AICC chief to iron out the differences between Gehlot and Pilot but can he do something freely if there is a risk of annoying a Gandhi family member? Besides, who will be made to blink first?             

The Congress party has tried to play down the outburst by Gehlot. Speaking on behalf of the AICC, Jayaram Ramesh said that the party will sort out the matter in a manner best suited to its ‘interest’. The best course for the party is to being to an end the Gehlot-Pilot power tussle. But clearly the AICC has no remedy for the malaise even when Rahul Gandhi starts his brief foray into the state during his Bharat Jodo Yatra on December 3.

It will be interesting to see who among the senior Rajasthan Congress leaders join him. Pilot was seen in the Rahul entourage in Madhya Pradesh the other day. Gehlot is often described as close to Sonia Gandhi. But the state Congress leaders’ participation—Gehlot or Pilot or both–in the Bharat Jodo Yatra is unlikely to have any bearing on the continuing fight between the chief minister and Pilot.   

Going by the electoral history of the desert state, it is the turn of the BJP to snatch power from the Congress in the 2023 polls. But till about a few months ago, the challenge from a divided BJP in the state looked weak and Gehlot appeared not to be hit strongly by anti-incumbency headwinds. It gave an edge to the Congress. But that was also based on the premise that the Congress in Rajasthan would fight as a cohesive, united team; the few noises of dissidence were not loud enough to impact the polls, it was assumed.

But about two months ago, an open ‘revolt’ broke out in Rajasthan Congress when Pilot, aspiring to replace Gehlot, escaped to a resort in Haryana in the company of 40 or so Congress MLAs of the state assembly. The ‘rebels’ were allegedly lured  by the BJP. The name of a union minister belonging to Rajasthan was widely mentioned as the BJP hand behind the ‘revolt’.

Gehlot for some reasons has not been able to move against the union minister even after a report against him was lodged in Rajasthan in a case of alleged phone tapping aimed at destabilizing the state government in July.

Gehlot’s detractors allege that he has some kind of secret understanding with the former BJP chief minister of Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje. But the Pilot camp too faces the allegation of hobnobbing with the BJP to pull down the government headed by Gehlot.   

These kinds of blames are common in Indian politics though quite often they do contain a grain of truth. In Rajasthan a Congress leader like Pilot—or for that matter, even Gehlot–crossing over to the BJP will not be able to advance his career or meet high expectations because of certain opposition from the old party veterans who are already smarting from a feeling of being neglected and resent the elevation of Vasundhara Raje.

The best that the Congress in Rajasthan can hope for is that both Gehlot and Pilot do not precipitate matters by splitting the party. Neither can be sure of a better future by either floating a new party or going over to rival BJP.

This stalemate may stall a big crisis within the Congress but will not guarantee victory in the coming state assembly polls which must be the ultimate goal of the two estranged Congress leaders of Rajasthan. (sat)