After the Congress high command’s attempt at buying peace in Chhattisgarh by anointing TS Singh Deo as the deputy CM, speculation is abuzz in Rajasthan that a similar arrangement may be on the heels in the state, by accommodating Sachin Pilot in a role at the top. Both election-bound states have been riddled with the same problem — that of a continued tussle between the CMs Bhupesh Baghel and Ashok Gehlot with their intra-party ‘rivals’, TS Singh Deo and Sachin Pilot, respectively.
Last week, after it was announced that Singh Deo will become the deputy CM of Chhattisgarh, Pilot, in a one-line cryptic and formal tweet, congratulated the leader.
This set tongues rolling, wondering if Pilot is dropping a hint, expecting a similar treatment be meted out in Rajasthan to end the on-again, off-again feud between him and Gehlot.
Roping In Harish Chaudhary For Mediation
After spending a few days in the national capital last week, holding meetings with party leadership, Pilot returned to Jaipur on 1 July to another set of meetings—this time with his loyalist MLAs and supporters.
This added fuel to the rumor mills about an announcement of Pilot’s liking imminent in Rajasthan. Sources told The Quint that a series of meetings were scheduled in Jaipur to take place this week, but since Gehlot injured his toe following a minor accident, they stand cancelled.
In light of the extended tussle in the state, a renewed attempt at brokering peace has been initiated in the state. Sources told The Quint that party leader Harish Chaudhary has been given the responsibility to mediate the tussle between the two leaders and come up with a solution acceptable to both. Chaudhary had met with Rahul Gandhi in Delhi on 27 June where this was decided.
Chaudhary is presently the AICC in-charge of Punjab and was previously an MP from Barmer-Jaisalmer constituency in Rajasthan. The leader is considered to be close to Rahul Gandhi, and a trusted aide of the party leadership.
However, Chaudhary has his task cut out for him. In the last few years, several Congress leaders have been given the job of mediating the Gehlot-Pilot tussle, but none have been very successful. From previous state in-charges Avinash Pande and Ajay Maken and current one Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, to more recently former Madhya Pradesh CM Kamal Nath, a number of senior Congress leaders have managed to achieve little more than a temporary truce between the two.
Team Pilot Targets 'Older' Candidates
The difference this time is that with Rajasthan elections just round the corner, the Congress leadership is very eager to reach a solution, and cannot delay it much longer.
The old guard versus new guard fight has taken a new turn now, with multiple older leaders of the ‘team Pilot’ stating that they will not be contesting elections this time. In the last week alone, three leaders have stated, back-to-back, that they are opting out of the election fight due to their age. Former Rajasthan assembly Speaker Deependra Singh Shekhawat, minister Hemaram Choudhary and Sangod MLA Bharat Singh Kundanpur have declared that they will not be contesting the upcoming assembly elections.
All of them are above 70 years of age. While Choudhary and Shekhawat were among the 18 MLAs who sided with Pilot during his 2020 ‘rebellion’, Singh is also known to have grown close to him in the last year. This evidently seemed like team Pilot sending a message to the Congress: disallow older candidates from the Gehlot camp from contesting. Reacting to this development, the state Congress leadership denied having any “age criteria” for the candidates.
Several of the MLAs is the ‘Gehlot camp’ are in their late 60s and 70s, and Pilot has in the past spoken about the need to have younger candidates. However, in the 2018 polls, this insistence of his had backfired as many of the older Congress leaders who weren’t given a ticket by the party contested as independents and won—thus defeating the official Congress candidates. Many of these independents today support Gehlot, thus complicating the narrative for Pilot.
But the dynamics of Rajasthan Congress cannot be compared to Chhattisgarh or even to Karnataka. For one, in Rajasthan, while Gehlot is representative of the ‘old guard’, in Chhattisgarh, the newly appointed deputy CM TS Singh Deo is older than CM Baghel. Secondly, while there never has been a very public war of words between Singh Deo and Baghel, in Rajasthan, Gehlot and Pilot have frequently been heard hitting out at one another. From Gehlot calling Pilot ‘nikamma’ (useless) and ‘gaddar’ (traitor) to the former deputy CM hitting back and questioning the CM’s alleged allegiance to BJP’s Vasundhara Raje, the two have left no stone unturned at making their dislike towards each other publicly known.
Moreover, while Pilot has already been the deputy CM, and dismissed from the post, the leader has been eyeing the post of the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief, ahead of the polls. The post holds immense power, and the post-holder decides important matters like candidate selection. Pilot, who was the PCC chief ahead of the 2018 polls, was seen as the figurehead who drove the party to victory.