Party President Aspirant Gehlot Rocks the Congress Boat in Rajasthan
Said to be the choice of the Congress ‘high command’ for the post of national president of the party, Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot has rocked the party by triggering resignations of over 90 ruling party MLAs of the 200-member Rajasthan assembly in which the Congress enjoys support of 113 members in all. The rebels’ demand: Gehlot, if elected Congress president, should not be replaced by Sachin Pilot, ‘high command’s’ favoured successor, who had tried to destabilised the Congress government by running away with 30 MLAs to a resort in Haryana—courtesy BJP government of Haryana–over two years ago. He was not content with his deputy chief minister status and the chief minister was in the habit of snubbing him.
The resignations of MLAs coupled with the revolt of 30 MLAs two years ago have combined to create an impression in the public that the Congress is getting weaker in the state because of open mutinies. There may yet be another one after the present storm blows over.
It speaks poorly of the Congress strategy that the observers appointed to oversee Rajasthan developments had not anticipated the reaction of the majority of party MLAs in case the ‘high command’ pushed the name of Sachin Pilot whose career with the Congress looked like near end when he commandeered 30 MLAs to a Haryana resort. Not only Ashok Gehlot and Rajasthan Congress but even the Congress leadership in Delhi was furious at Pilot for what was suspected to be an attempt at leading a Congress group into the fold of the BJP—‘arch enemy’.
How soon or how the present Rajasthan crisis will be resolved by the Congress leadership is of great interest. But before that happens, some adverse consequences of the mass resignations in the Congress legislative party are already on view. Because of the disarray in Rajasthan, the Congress image would still take another knock even if Gehlot manages to become party president with or without (unlikely) the blessings of the ‘high command’ (shorthand for the Sonia Gandhi-Rahul Gandhi duo). Its reverberations will continue into 2023 when Rajasthan goes to polls.
The BJP would be quite pleased; it will hope that the Congress crumbles in the state without the BJP launching Operation Lotus. The BJP in Rajasthan is a divided house but obviously so is the Congress. Yet, the BJP will be facing the state assembly polls with confidence because the poll race will be led by Narendra Modi, arguably a leader more capable of pulling in voters than anyone else in the country. BJP poll campaign gets a bonus if dissensions in the rival group are so manifest.
A question mark must hang over Gehlot’s competence to lead the Congress nationally. If as chief minister and the most powerful Congress leader in the state he could not prevent an acutely embarrassing display of disunity how can he be trusted to run a national party? Some have wondered if Gehlot should still remain in the presidential race.
Gehlot can draw a sadistic pleasure from the fact that the ‘rebellion’ by Congress MLAs in Rajasthan has all but sealed the future of Sachin Pilot. With probably less than a dozen Congress MLAs (against 30 during the 2020 rebellion) behind him, he cannot aspire to be the chief minister and leader of an assembly that has 200 seats.
Of course, the Congress leadership in Delhi can still try to dictate its will in favour of Pilot but it will be fraught with the danger of disintegration of the Congress in Rajasthan, one of only three states where the party rules.
The number of supporters of Pilot may drop further when it becomes clear that there is nothing much to be gained by remaining loyal to him. Sachin Pilot will be unwise if he toys with the idea of floating a party of his own. Rajasthan has remained a bipolar state and looks like remaining so in the near future.
Normally when Congress party leaders or members break away from the Congress they tend to join the BJP. It has become a joke that today some states are run by ‘BJP (Congress)’, given the preponderance of defectors from the Congress in the saffron party.
The BJP in Rajasthan has no room for any migrant leader from another party since within its own ranks there are quite a few contenders for the top job in the state. The Vasundhara Raje faction dominates within the BJP but the BJP leadership in Delhi (the Modi-Shah) duo is not enamoured her. There are old guards and even younger members within the BJP in the state who vie for party leadership in the state. Pilot will have to join a long queue at its tail.
A problem with Pilot, highly intelligent, articulate and a hardworking man is that he is impatient and ‘immature’ or lacking the qualities of ‘seasoned’ leaders which are necessary for political survival. There is an ego clash between him and Gehlot. Ideologically, the two may not differ but the clash of personalities between them makes it difficult to perceive their coming together, now or at a future date.
The elevation of Gehlot at the party’s national level will cast a shadow over Pilot’s future, especially if the latter decides to continue his politics in Rajasthan which is, in fact, his ‘adopted’ state. His father, late Rajesh Pilot, belonged to Ghaziabad (UP).
It may nor may not have crossed the mind of Sachin Pilot but he might give a thought to the idea of returning to his ‘home state’ of UP where a young bright party leader like him should be able to do much better, more so when he is almost certain not to encounter any serious rival.
The Congress in UP is comatose and is desperately in need of a capable, mature young leader to revive the Grand Old Party in the state. Pilot will not have to worry too much if he fails to perform a miracle for the Congress in UP; it will be sufficient for him to have made a mark as a dedicated and capable leader. But, of course, his worry at present must be about his role as a Congress leader in Rajasthan.###
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