Jaipur: The Congress in-charge of Rajasthan, Ajay Maken may have had one-on-one consultations with Congress MLAs to address their grievances ahead of the much-anticipated cabinet expansion in the state, but there is more to it.
On similar lines, a consultation process to address the infighting in its Punjab unit through a high-level three-member committee was held one month ago and the result was an elevation of Congress leader Navjyot Singh Sidhu as the chief of the party in Punjab. But in Rajasthan, despite the recent intervention of party high command, the long-running stalemate in the state's Congress unit might take some more time to come to an end.
This week, Maken spent two days in Jaipur where he individually met party MLAs to take feedback on issues such as Cabinet expansion, the constitution of district Congress committees and political appointments. The MLA's from the two factions supporting the chief minister Ashok Gehlot and former Deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot respectively interacted with Maken, who stressed on putting a full stop to the factionalism in the party’s state unit.
The meeting concluded with an informal dinner for MLAs hosted by the chief minister at his residence, where Gehlot underlined that he will always remain the ‘guardian of the Congress MLAs'. Interestingly while the MLA's supporting him attended the dinner, the former deputy CM Sachin Pilot gave it a miss.
"During the dinner at the Chief Minister's house on Thursday night, he reiterated that he is our guardian and spoke about forgiving and forgetting", said a senior Congress leader who attended the dinner. Interestingly this is not the first time Gehlot has spoken about 'Forgetting and forgiving' . Last year Gehlot had exactly said the same words, when a month-long tussle between Gehlot and Pilot ended on the eve of Independence Day in August 2020. In July 2020, Pilot along with his 18 loyalist MLAs staged a rebellion against Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. But a month later inside the Assembly, Gehlot displayed his strength by winning the confidence motion via voice vote.
On July 14, 2020, Sachin Pilot was removed as the deputy chief minister of Rajasthan and from his position as the state unit chief and party spokesperson, and two of his loyalist cabinet ministers Vishvendra Singh and Ramesh Meena were sacked from their posts in the state government. Pilot, who was the longest-serving president of the party unit in the state, was sacked by the party after he skipped the second round of meetings convened by Congress to discuss the political crisis in the state. The party immediately appointed primary education minister Govind Singh Dotasara as the new Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee president.
Congress leader Ajay Maken said that besides discussing party matters with the MLAs, discussions were also held on how Congress can do a repeat in the state assembly in 2023.
"I have spoken with 115 MLAs and took their feedback on certain issues. I was overwhelmed to see how some ministers were ready to step down from their posts and work for the party organisation. Following the meeting with the MLAs, I have also discussed matters with the chief minister, the PCC president, and Pilot. We discussed how we can return again in 2023", Maken told reporters in Jaipur.
Maken may call his one-to-one consultations with the MLAs a success in strengthening the party in Rajasthan but the MLAs from both factions see a status quo when it comes to the cabinet expansion and the fulfilment of posts in the party.
"I can see cabinet expansion in limbo. It will happen someday but very soon. As compared to Punjab, Rajasthan has different challenges. Besides satisfying the two groups by giving them ministerial berths, there are independent and Six former BSP MLAs who now also want a significant role in the cabinet. The challenge remains for Ashok Gehlot to take everyone together", a senior Congress leader from the Gehlot camp told Outlook.
As per Congress sources, besides the Pilot camp the six former BSP MLAs, who joined the Congress have also demanded expansion of the state cabinet soon which has stepped up internal deliberations in Congress where the tension is already rising between the two factions.
The Rajasthan Cabinet currently has nine vacancies but it is turning out to be a tight rope walk for the party leadership. At present, there are 21 members in the council of ministers, including the chief minister. Rajasthan can have a maximum of 30 ministers.
One week ago Congress general secretary Venugopal and Maken visited Jaipur and held discussions on the issues of a cabinet reshuffle and political appointments with Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot at his residence in Jaipur.
Interestingly Maken and Venugopal are also the two members of the committee constituted by the AICC last year to present a report on the issues highlighted by Sachin pilot. However, this is the first time that they held discussions together on issues raised by Pilot with CM Gehlot.
Expressing their unhappiness over the political impasse over cabinet expansion and political appointments, Ved Prakash Solanki, a Congress MLA supporting Sachin Pilot said, "We were heard by the Maken. We shared our issues once again. We have been waiting for the cabinet expansion and the workers are waiting for fulfilling the positions in the party. Nothing is happening so far. We can only hope that this time the party high command makes things better here". Ved Prakash Solanki was one of the MLA's who revolted last year.
The Punjab story has made MLAs from Congress and its allies in Rajasthan hopeful. The MLAs have repeatedly demanded the expansion and highlighted that some departments are completely dependent on government officials, and they will function efficiently after a minister is appointed again.