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Why is Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot Flexing Muscle?

The CM’s recent steps indicate more than rivalry with the Sachin Pilot camp. It betrays a reluctance to take on a national post while Congress’ electoral fortunes are bleak.
Ashok Gehlot

Rahul Gandhi, who is on a foot march travelling the length and breadth of the nation with a message of Bharat Jodo, might not have imagined that the United Colours of Rajasthan would fall apart again. Unlike 2020, this time, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s camp led a rebellion of 82 legislators close to him who submitted their resignations. Congress interim chief Sonia Gandhi stepped in and appointed Ajay Maken and Mallikarjun Kharge to set the house in order. 

Maken and Kharge submitted a detailed report to Gandhi after meeting the disgruntled legislators in Jaipur. All 82 MLAs adopted a stand against Rajasthan deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot’s pitching for the top position, while Gehlot is considered a front-runner for the party president’s post. 

The crisis is not new to the grand old party, which faced a similar political drama in Punjab and Assam. It had appointed Navjot Singh Siddhu as Punjab’s state chief despite his open friction with then chief minister Amarinder Singh. The move led to a similar situation as in Rajasthan, and in the end, the party had to choose Charanjit Singh Channi as a makeshift chief minister. The party also faced resistance in Assam when it picked Tarun Gogoi as chief minister over Himanta Biswa Sharma. 

However, Gehlot’s desert storm was a shock, especially when he was among the top contenders for the party’s primary responsibility. Considering the scale of the crisis, it is essential to dissect Gehlot’s actions, which indicate his reluctance to take on the ‘promotion’. 

Gehlot Challenge to High Command

With his muscle-flexing, Gehlot has challenged the high command that picked him over Pilot as chief minister after the 2018 state polls. His recent moves betray his reluctance to be promoted to Delhi with little or lesser power than he holds now. 

At the same time, the rift between Gehlot and Pilot has come out in the open once again. The Chief Minister is visibly uncomfortable with his deputy-turned-rival becoming the top choice of the Gandhis to replace him. The rebellion by his loyalists has made it clear they will go to any extent to stop Pilot from taking the chief minister’s chair—Gehlot’s desired workstation. 

The turmoil has reportedly miffed the Gandhi matriarch, who is reportedly set to penalise Gehlot for his actions after he expressed helplessness to contain the legislators, saying the situation is “not in his hands”.

Apprehension of ‘Puppet’ President

The election for the Congress president’s post is slated for 17 October amidst one of its most ambitious outreach programmes, the Bharat Jodo Yatra. Currently leading it as the face of the padyatra, Rahul Gandhi has opted out of the internal election. But, the Gandhi family’s approach that a non-family member becomes party chief would have resonated more if a new president had flagged off the 3,570-km foot march. 

Gehlot’s reluctance to be the new party head might be due to an anxiety of being reduced to a dummy national president. He has shown his intolerance of Pilot’s views in running the state government and might not want himself in a situation where he is being remote-controlled. The apprehension of any non-Gandhi president, including Ashok Gehlot, would be that Rahul Gandhi would fire salvos from his shoulder or side-step him without holding any official post, as he has done for years. 

Considering the latest events, the office of the national president has progressively become a very unattractive job. 

Congress Script for Perfect Non-Gandhi Fails

Sonia Gandhi was appointed party president unopposed in 1998, and since 2000, there has been no challenger to a Gandhi family member in the party’s presidency. Consequently, it initiated a long uninterrupted era of Gandhi-family dominance over the office of the party president’s post. After years of criticism and questioning of the claim of the Gandhis over the president position, the high command wanted to escape the tag of being dynastic and nepotistic. However, the script to explore democratic ways for the party president’s election has not worked out as planned. 

In Gehlot, the party found the perfect qualities of a successor. Regarded as a grass-roots leader and a loyalist of the Gandhis’ he possessed all the desirable traits to take over the ostensibly coveted seat. However, the Gandhis are caught off guard by Gehlot’s pushback edging towards indiscipline and standing firm to remain the king in his backyard. Regarded as a magician, this was unmistakably not one of Gehlot’s cleanest tricks. 

We can argue that the Gehlot controversy is only a product of the Congress party’s long-drawn practice of not encouraging new leadership and its lack of internal democracy. By not letting Pilot lead the party in Rajasthan, Gehlot has reciprocated what has been happening centrally. Thus, Congress does not always require an ‘Operation Lotus’ to destabilise its state governments. It is quite capable of kicking up a storm on its own. At this juncture, it is essential to reiterate that democracy is a culture to be nurtured, not something to be introduced via official diktat.

The authors are researchers and political strategists. The views are personal

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