Monday, Nov 28, 2022

Gehlot vs Pilot: Why Today's Rajasthan Congress Meeting Is Significant

Amidst the speculations over the change of the guard in Rajasthan, Congress legislature party is going to meet today in the evening at the Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s house.

Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot (Right) and Deputy CM Sachin Pilot (left)
Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot (Right) and Deputy CM Sachin Pilot (left) File photo

Amidst the speculations over the change of the guard in Rajasthan, Congress legislature party is going to meet today in the evening at the Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s house. The party president Sonia Gandhi has deployed Mallikarjun Kharge and Congress Rajasthan general secretary-in-charge Ajay Maken to overhaul the proceedings. This is going to be the second CLP meeting in one week.  

The meeting is crucial in the backdrop of Ashok Gehlot’s decision to run for the presidential post of the party. On Friday, as Rahul Gandhi clarified that none from Gandhi family will be contesting the party election, Gehlot was the first to confirm his candidature. However, keeping in mind Gandhi’s reminder that he expects the party to follow the Udaipur resolution of ‘one-man-one-post’, Gehlot said that he would leave the decision of Rajasthan CM on Sonia Gandhi and general secretary-in-charge of Rajasthan Ajay Maken.  

If the resolution of the Congress ‘Chintan Shivir’ held at Udaipur is anything to go by Gehlot will not be able to hold the CM’s post if he becomes the party president. Sachin Pilot, his former deputy and political bete noire has been standing at the queue since his failed efforts to topple the Gehlot government in 2020. In this context, a throwback will help us to look at the relevance and importance of today’s meeting in politics of Rajasthan.  

Why is the Meeting significant for Rajasthan govt?  

According to sources, the meeting will discuss the possible change of the guard in the state. There have been speculations since Gehlot’s declaration of intent to fight the presidential elections, that Sachin Pilot will take over as the Chief Minister. However, it is not clear whether Gehlot will resign after the filing of the nomination or will wait for the outcome of the election. 

The grey zone in the whole conduct is the unconstrained power of Congress President. If Gehlot wins, the political observers think that he will not let Pilot take over his berth. As president he will also be nominating the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chiefs if that respective state congress unit has failed to elect one. Already 10 PCC have left the state president post on presidential discretion. In this context, what Gehlot may do with Pilot’s aspiration is anybody’s guess.  

Notably, the assembly speaker C P Joshi’s name is also doing the rounds. Joshi fought for the CM’s post in 2008 but lost by one vote. Joshi had old animosity with Gehlot. In 2008, when Joshi as the state Congress President led the party to victory, Gehlot was appointed as Chief Minister. Anointing him as the Union Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Minister in UPA II cabinet though the Gandhis tried to heal the spot, it will be imprudent to think that he will leave even a single stone unturned to replace Gehlot.   

Another positive thing for Joshi is his backing of Gandhi family. Being the only Brahmin face in Rajasthan Congress, he has the potential to cut through the BJP’s upper caste vote bank as well. In this context, it is to be observed what the Congress top leadership will risk- Joshi’s allegiance or Pilot’s rebellion?  

How Gehlot-Pilot fight has Transpired So Far 

In July, 2020, Sachin Pilot, then the deputy CM of Rajasthan took a bid to topple the Gehlot government. Claiming that he had support of 30 MLAs in a 200 members’ Assembly where the Congress had total 107 MLAs along with the support of 13 independent MLAs, Pilot went on a strike.  

It was also alleged that Pilot and his MLAs were actually receiving the backing of 72 BJP MLAs through Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekawat. Alleged audio clips of horse trading conducted by Shekawat also came to the forefront making it difficult for Pilot to hold on his rebels.  

With Rahul Gandhi’s intervention though the situation was brought under control, in the last two years several instances of mudslinging between Gehlot and Pilot have been reported. The most recent being the case of Indra Meghawal, the Dalit boy who was beaten to death by his teacher for drinking water from a pitcher exclusively kept for the upper caste students.  

As this incident provoked immediate conundrums in Rajasthan resulting in voluntary resignation of one of its MLA Pana Chand Meghwal, Pilot-Gehlot got engaged in war of words. While Pilot indirectly accused Gehlot of delayed Police action, Gehlot batted with the allegations of provoking insurgency within the party.  

In June this year Gehlot once again attacked Pilot as Shekawat said that the latter missed the opportunity of toppling the Government. Had he done so, the water from Eastern Rajasthan Canal Project would have reached the different parts of the state, said the union minister. Gehlot in this context however didn’t miss the opportunity to remind Pilot’s connivance in the efforts to dislodge the stable government.  

These incidents clearly show that Pilot-Gehlot strife is far from over. It is only with the intervention of the Congress top leaders; political observers expect the situation can be tamed down.  

Today’s meeting thus is extremely significant to not only understand the future course of the Congress, rather to realize the internal divisions within the party that has been trying its hands in uniting the polarised country.