In a mid-night drama in Rajasthan, more than 90 Congress MLAs offered to submit their resignation to the Assembly Speaker C P Joshi citing their disagreement with the probable elevation of Sachin Pilot as the Chief Minister in case Ashok Gehlot becomes the party president.
According to sources, MLAs loyal to chief minister Ashok Gehlot gathered at cabinet minister Shanti Dhariwal’s residence in the evening and took the resolution of resigning en masse. They want the successor of Gehlot to have the credential of supporting the government during the toppling efforts in 2020. Senior Congress leaders are on their toes to resolve the crisis.
It is also learnt that while the MLAs were going to meet Speaker Joshi, Pilot and his loyalist MLAs were waiting at Gehlot’s residence for a Congress Legislature Party meeting along with central leader Mallikarajun Kharge sent by party president Sonia Gandhi as an observer.
On instructions of Rahul Gandhi, sources said, senior party leader K C Venugopal spoke to Gehlot to gauge the scale of the crisis. A few media reports though claimed that during the conversation, Gehlot said "Nothing is in my hands. The MLAs are angry". However, Venugopal denied any such calls later.
Kharge and Ajay Maken, party general secretary and in-charge of Rajasthan affairs, have been trying to pursuade the MLAs to resolve the crisis with one-to-one conversations.
Three conditions to resolve the dispute
As per sources, Rajasthan Cabinet ministers Dhariwal, Pratap Singh Khachariyawas and Mahesh Joshi, along with Gehlot's advisor Sanyam Lodha met the AICC observers but the efforts went in vain. They had placed three major conditions before the central leadership.
Firstly, they urged the observers to hold the decisions on Gehlot's replacement until the party presidential elections are over. Secondly, they called for Gehlot's engagement in the selection process and finally, they wanted somebody who stood by the government during Pilot's rebellion in 2020.
On their return from Joshi's place, senior leader and cabinet minister Govind Ram Meghwal said, "We have submitted our resignation and are now going home. The MLAs want that any decision on the CM post should be taken only after the election of the party’s national president."
Keeping his full faith on Gehlot, Meghwal added that the CM can easily handle both the posts.
Reflecting on the pulse of the rebel MLAs, independnet legislator and advisor to the CM, Lodha said, "If a decision is not taken keeping the MLAs' sentiments in mind, the government will be in danger."
Interestingly, the political cynics note that the first condition is a masterstroke by Gehlot as if he wins the presidential election, he will have additional power to determine his own fate as the CM. Even if he sticks to the Udaipur resolution and leaves the CM post, he will have the maximum say on the selection of his successor.
The mid-night crisis
Interestingly, though Gehlot has been claiming that he doesn’t have anything to do with the mid-night rebellion, his capacity to gather the loyalists was evident during the Pilot-led rebellion in 2020. The Rajasthan CM earlier signalled the Gandhis about his intention to keep both the posts but Rahul Gandhi was very clear about the ‘one-man-one-post’ resolution.
Political observers who have been closely looking at the progress said that without Gehlot’s subtle support such a large scale of rebellion is rarely possible.
Meanwhile Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) leader Jayant Singh, an ally of the Congress party in the state, referred to the gravity of the situation and asked Congress to sort it out for as soon as possible. In a late-night tweet he said, “We have left no stone unturned in maintaining the alliance with respect to Rajasthan, nor will there be any changes in it today. If any new equation is formed after the election of the Congress president, then the decision about the post of chief minister in the state will also have to be taken by the Congress.”
BJP hopes for president's rule
Having tested the muddy water, the state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has also joined the row. Indicating that the President Rule must be imposed on the state, the Deputy Leader of Opposition Rajendra Rathore tweeted, “The current political situation in Rajasthan is pointing towards President's rule. Chief Minister @ashokgehlot51, why are you doing drama? Why is there a delay after the cabinet has resigned? You too should resign.”
The state BJP president Satish Poonia claimed that the trends of upcoming 2023 state elections have become clear.
"There is not so much uncertainty in today's India-Australia cricket match as there is about the leaders in the Congress party of Rajasthan. The meetings of MLAs are going on separately, the political hypocrisy of resignations is going on separately. What rule will they enforce? Where will they take Rajasthan, God save Rajasthan,” said Poonia.
At the current juncture, until there is any resolution reached by the Congress high command, all the forces are assembled against Sachin Pilot who has just 21 MLAs loyal to him in a house of 200. Political observers are also sniffing at BJP’s probable engagement to woo Pilot again if the crisis doesn’t subside soon.
Parallel meeting of Gehlot loyalists is indiscipline: Ajay Maken
The Congress In-Charge of Rajasthan Ajay Maken has termed the conduct of MLAs loyal to Gehlot as an act of indiscipline.
Maken further said the setting up of conditions for a party resolution creates a conflict of interest.
"In the 75 years of Congress history, there has never been a conditional resolution. Resolution is one-line only. Everything is told to the Congress president and then a decision is taken. Resolution should not have any conflict of interest. Those who are contesting elections and tomorrow become party president, they get to decide on the resolution and this is a conflict of interest. So, it is wrong," said Maken, without naming Geglot.
He further said, "We will listen to everyone. No decision is being taken. Whatever you will say will be conveyed to Delhi..We have directions to hold one-to-one meetings with MLAs so that they speak frankly. So, no one should be worried that their feelings and thoughts are not being conveyed. But, they (delegation of ministers) insisted that their three demands should be part of the resolution."
Maken said he and Kharge kept waiting for the MLAs on Sunday night but they did not turn up.
He added, "So today, we are returning to New Delhi to apprise Sonia Gandhi about the developments."