Rajat Sharma

Gehlot and the Gandhis: What went wrong?

akb full_frame_74900The ‘Game of Thrones’ in Rajasthan Congress entered the third day today with legislators owing allegiance to both the Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot camps casting aspersions against one another. The Congress Party is now facing a crisis.

The high command will have to decide who should be elected the party president. Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot, who was the first choice of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, was almost set to be elected party chief, but now the high command’s advisers are looking for alternatives. On Monday, the name of MP Congress stalwart Kamal Nath cropped up, but he said he was “not interested”. He told reporters, “I have no interest in the Congress president post, I have come to Delhi for Navratri.” Names of Digvijaya Singh, Mukul Wasnik and Mallikarjuna Kharge were also floated for the party chief post on Monday.

Reports say, the Gandhi family is unhappy with Ashok Gehlot because of the ‘rebellion’ by his supporter MLAs on Sunday, when they refused to meet the central observers, and instead went straight to the Speaker’s residence to submit their resignation letters. Sachin Pilot was the first choice of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi for the CM’s post, but presently there appears to be least chances of him being made the chief minister. As many as 92 MLAs are against Sachin Pilot. The manner in which Gehlot loyalists aired their opinions in public, make it quite clear that Gehlot can continue as chief minister, if he wants. And if any move is made to dislodge him, the Congress government in Rajasthan may collapse.

Questions now arise about whom the Gandhi family will prop up as party chief, whether action will be taken against Gehlot and his supporters, and the political fate of Sachin Pilot. Party observer Ajay Maken’s remarks on Monday night make it quite clear that the crisis is serious. Maken said, he and Kharge were not prepared for the situation when majority of the MLAs refused to meet the observers. He added, there has been no past precedent in the Congress of any resolution being passed with conditions.

Both the observers were sent from Delhi to mobilize party MLAs to accept Sachin Pilot as CM and Gehlot as party president, but Gehlot’s loyalists refused to meet them. They conveyed a clear message saying, Sachin Pilot was not acceptable as CM. The party high command is now thinking of how to rein in these dissenters. What happened in Jaipur on Sunday, had never happened in the history of Congress party.

Gehlot loyalist MLAs met in Shanti Dhariwal’s residence and conveyed their three demands to the central observers, (1) Gehlot’s successor be decided only after the party president election is over (2) central observers should not meet the MLAs individually, but in groups, and (3) Gehlot’s successor should be picked only from those MLAs who are his supporters.

All these three demands went against the directive of party interim chief Sonia Gandhi. She had sent both the observers with the directive that they should speak to each MLA separately, but Gehlot loyalists were unwilling to meet the observers individually. Maken and Kharge had to return empty handed. Ajay Maken demanded that the high command must take disciplinary action against two ministers who led the rebellion, Shanti Dhariwal and Pratap Singh Khachriyawas.

In Jaipur, Shanti Dhariwal refuted Ajay Maken’s remarks. Dhariwal said, “Maken had come to Jaipur not as an observer from high command, but as one who was canvassing support for Sachin Pilot. We did not commit indiscipline. Ajay Maken wanted a single line resolution to be adopted entrusting the selection of Gehlot’s successor to the party president, but our MLAs did not agree. Nobody will challenge Sonia Ji, but she would have to choose the CM from those MLAs who are party loyalists, and not from among those who had tried to revolt in the past. It will not be justified to reward the traitors. We cannot accept Sachin Pilot or any of his supporter as CM”.

Ashok Gehlot’s magic has spoiled Sonia Gandhi’s plans. Within a span of 48 hours, the entire script was changed. The party, which was in search of a president, is now trying to save its government in Rajasthan. Gehlot proved to wiser than Sonia Gandhi’s advisers. Gehlot was the Gandhi family’s first choice for party president, but today, he seems to have fallen from grace. Already a search is on to pick somebody to replace Gehlot as the official candidate for party chief post.

Two things are now clear. One, majority of Congress MLAs in Rajasthan are with Ashok Gehlot, and Two, Gehlot loyalist MLAs are no more afraid of threats from party high command. If the high command insists on anointing Sachin Pilot as CM, the party can split.

Ashok Gehlot has maintained silence, but, on his behalf, his close loyalist like Pratap Singh Khachriyawas, Mahesh Joshi, Shanti Dhariwal and state party chief Govind Singh Dotasara are openly giving statements in support of their MLAs. Gehlot camp is clearly ahead in the numbers game. In the 200-member Rajasthan assembly, Congress ha 108 MLAs, out of which Gehlot camp claims the support of 92 members. It is being claimed that Sachin Pilot camp has the support of only six MLAs, while 10 members are reported to be neutral.

It was Gehlot who arranged the support of BSP and independent MLAs and ran his government smoothly. And now Gehlot has proved to be a heavyweight compared to the advisers of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. To forestall the possibility of the high command seeking the CM’s resignation, Gehlot’s advisers ensured that all supporter MLAs submit their resignations straight to the Speaker C.P.Joshi.

The most interesting part is that, for the first time, the entire drama is taking place in public, and is not shrouded in secrecy. In other words, this is an open challenge to Sonia and Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. Gehlot camp is now upbeat, while Pilot’s supporters are a bit disappointed.

The revolt in Rajasthan has now made the field open for the post of Congress president. Till Sunday morning, it was almost clear that Ashok Gehlot, a known loyalist of Gandhi family, will become the party chief since he was Sonia’s nominee, but after Sunday’s incidents, there is a possibility that Gehlot may not contest for party chief post. Kamal Nath met Sonia Gandhi on Monday night, but after coming out, he said he was not interested in the party chief post. “I had come to extend best wishes to Sonia Gandhi on Navratri”, he said.

It is now clear that the Gandhi family was completely out of touch with what was happening on the ground. The family had believed that the chief minister of Rajasthan would be changed with a single hint from the high command. The views of MLAs were not taken into account. Verbal instruction was given to ensure that Gehlot would become party president, and Sachin Pilot would become the CM.

The fact that Sonia and Rahul Gandhi are out of touch with ground reality can be easily verified by the situation that has now cropped up. Two days ago, Gehlot was the blue-eyed favourite of Gandhi family, and now he has become a stye in the eye. Gehlot was the arch loyalist who was getting the party chief post on a platter, but after what his supporters did in Jaipur, he is now being named as a traitor. It has now become difficult to decide who is the loyalist and who is the traitor?

Two years ago, Sachin Pilot had raised the banner of revolt and had taken his MLAs to Manesar, Haryana, and now Gehlot has displayed his political muscle. It is strange that the Gandhi family has not learnt its lessons from what happened in Punjab.

In Punjab, Navjot Singh Sidhu was shown the dream of leading the party, Capt. Amarinder Singh was sacked, but Charanjit Singh Channi was made the CM. The net result: Congress was wiped out in the assembly elections in Punjab.

Old timers in Congress are now fearing the worst in Rajasthan. The developments in Congress have made the common party workers confused and worried. They have reasons to worry, when they watch experienced leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Capt. Amarinder Singh and Jyotiraditya Scindia making the exit. They had expected Ashok Gehlot to lead the party, given his long experience, his political acumen and consistent loyalty. But now, the needle of suspicion points towards Gehlot.

Some Congress leaders are now asking, how can the party high command, which could not keep its own senior leaders together, forge an alliance with the likes of Sharad Pawar, Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar?

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