Why Congress Would Find It Difficult to Repeat Punjab Act With Ashok Gehlot
In the last week, two changes of guard happened in states held by different national parties. Could Gehlot be next?
In the last one week, two changes of guard happened in states held by two different national parties. Now, the question being asked is, will Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot be next?
Out of 117 Assembly seats in Punjab, Congress had a brute majority of 77. But 40 MLAs up in arms against the incumbent Chief Minister Amarinder Singh proved to be the last straw.
However, this is where the case of Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan differs from Punjab.
Gehlot has tightened his grip over the MLAs in the last one year through cajoling and soft-glove approach. This is the single factor which makes any decision like Punjab by the high command difficult in Rajasthan.
Gehlot's Grip Is More Solid Than It Seems
Congress has 106 MLAs in the Rajasthan Assembly which includes six turncoat MLAs who had joined Congress Legislative Party (CLP) from Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
The case filed by the BSP against their MLAs joining CLP is sub judice before the Supreme Court. The BSP turncoats in CLP are caught in the cleft as they were not given the promised ministerial berths due to Congress infighting, and the sword of the court case is still hanging over their heads.
Meanwhile, Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) has one MLA, Subash Garg, who is a minister of state in the government, considered very close to Gehlot.
But the strength of Gehlot lies in 13 independent MLAs, many of whom are those who were sidelined by the Sachin Pilot-led state Congress unit in the ticket distribution in 2018 and won in a triangle against their own party.
Alok Beniwal, Kanti Prasad Meena, Babu Lal Nagar, Mahadeo Singh Khandela, Raj Kumar Gaur, Ramkesh Meena, Laxman Meena and Sanyam Lodha are those independents who had stood steadfast with CM Gehlot during the ‘coup’ attempted by Pilot in July 2020.
All these independent MLAs have a long history and background with the Congress party and its ideology. Khushveer Singh also had been a Congress MLA from Marwar Junction in past but his loyalties were suspect during the month-long drama in 2020.
Om Prakash Hudla, Baljeet Yadav and Suresh Tank had good tucks with Gehlot, making his position more solid than it looks at a cursory glance.
2019 Lok Sabha Election Failure
Now in his third term, Gehlot has been on tenterhooks since his selection for the job in December 2018.
His challenger Pilot had numerous supporters among the opinion makers in Delhi circles but he fell short when it came to headcount of MLAs at the state Congress office.
Gehlot was given the responsibility of challenging the BJP in 2019 general election against the might of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But he failed to win a single Lok Sabha seat out of 25, and his son Vaibhav lost on his home turf of Jodhpur.
The only seat that Congress could have won was Nagaur, as Jyoti Mirdha had her own strength and followers but the BJP left the seat for Hanuman Beniwal of Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLTP) who proved to be a tougher nut to crack.
It is well known in Congress circles that Rahul Gandhi has never been in outright favour of Ashok Gehlot.
Gehlot hung precariously from the support thread extended by Sonia Gandhi and occasionally from Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. But Priyanka shifted her weight behind Pilot given the caste equation of Uttar Pradesh and the popularity he enjoys with his brethren.
A Challenger & Replacement in Sachin Pilot
Unlike Punjab, Congress in Rajasthan has a visible replacement leader in Pilot, who is rearing to take charge. So whenever a decision will be made by Congress high command, it would be on more or less expected lines. But the doubt over ‘when’ remains.
On Friday, 17 September, Pilot met Gandhi to discuss the political situation in Rajasthan, the reshuffle in the Gehlot-led government and the goals of the party for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, multiple reports suggested.
The meeting occurred a day before the Congress high command asked CM Amarinder Singh to resign.
Meanwhile, Gehlot is playing old school tricks of satisfying MLAs through development works and ensuring their sway over local administration, particularly after the July 2020 drama.
Even Pilot camp MLAs have made statements in the past saying that all the work they wanted to have in their constituency is being done, more or less.
However, one question which Gehlot has not been able to answer in the last two and half years is about the next election and GenNext in Rajasthan Congress.
His bête noire Pilot represents the GenNext of Congress in Rajasthan sans the patience for the Congress-style politics.
But the party high command is now impatient with ‘snail pace’ politics and wants quick answers.
If Gehlot manages to infuse fresh blood in the Rajasthan Congress then he may survive another year and if not, Rajasthan is not far away from Punjab and the distance from Delhi is magically increasing for the magician Gehlot.
(Arvind Singh is a freelance journalist from Jaipur.)
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