Rajasthan Cabinet Reshuffle: 'Mann ki Baat' Is Congress' Antidote to Infighting
There's much more to the Congress' consultation in Rajasthan than just CM Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot.
First Punjab, now Rajasthan. The Congress seems to have found a possible way of containing infighting in its state units - through a process of wide and detailed consultation to try and get to know the opinion or 'Mann ki Baat' of party leaders.
All through this week, the Congress' in-charge for Rajasthan, Ajay Maken, has been holding consultations with party MLAs and functionaries in Jaipur ahead of a cabinet reshuffle in the state. So far he is reported to have spoken to over 100 MLAs and is expected to speak to more. He has even reached out to BSP and Independent MLAs that are supporting the Ashok Gehlot government in the state.
Maken's Rajasthan mission comes less than a month after the party carried out a similar consultation process to address the infighting in its Punjab unit through a high level three member committee.
At one level, the Rajasthan consultation is an attempt to accommodate senior leader Sachin Pilot's loyalists in the state government. However, there's more to this entire process.
This article will look at three questions:
What are the aims behind this consultative approach?
What could happen in Rajasthan?
What does it mean for the Congress nationally?
THE AIMS BEHIND THIS 'CONSULTATION' PROCESS
"For many years, Rahul Gandhi has been saying that he wants the voice of every Congress worker to be heard. It is the first time this seems to be happening in practise," a party functionary from the Rajasthan unit told The Quint.
Though it may be an exaggeration to say that this is the first time that the party is holding such a consultation, it really hasn't been that common.
There is an important strategic aim here. It appears that the party high command wants to reduce its reliance on key state leaders - be it the Chief Minister, Pradesh Congress President or Congress Legislature Party leader - in mediating the relationship with MLAs and functionaries.
The fall of the Madhya Pradesh government was an important event in this respect. The party lost the support of several MLAs mainly because the entire relationship with this cluster of legislators was dependent on Jyotiraditya Scindia.
The Bengal elections in which the party got zero seats, was another jolt. Here the party had almost given a free hand to the state unit chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who pursued an aggressive approach towards Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, even after her injury. This didn't go down well with many party cadres.
The party leadership's belief is that MLAs and party functionaries should be made to feel that the leadership is listening to them and not just a select few. Their hope is that this would reduce the chances of rebellion.
Another major purpose of this process is to get feedback on key aspects - such as performance of the state government (if it is a Congress or allied government), functioning of the state unit, popularity of MLAs, key issues of concern of the public etc.
Of course, this is easier said than done.
In Punjab, the party high command literally had to coax MLAs to not hesitate in speaking up against CM Captain Amarinder Singh.
A senior Rajasthan minister is even said to have made calls to Punjab MLAs on Rahul Gandhi's behalf, urging them to speak to the three member committee set up by the Congress president.
A lot of the party's 'feedback' had to be done through a survey as well.
In Rajasthan, though Maken is trying to reach out to as many MLAs as he can, there are already demands that he also speak to candidates who may have lost in the last election.
WHAT COULD HAPPEN IN RAJASTHAN?
A number of MLAs are said to have complained to Maken that senior ministers like Shanti Dhariwal, BD Kalla and Raghu Sharma are unapproachable and don't act on their requests.
Similar complaints are said to have been made against Rajasthan Congress chief Govind Singh Dotasara. All these leaders are known to be close to Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.
The Pilot camp is playing its cards cleverly, unlike the open rebellion last year. They are calling for increased representation of Dalit, Muslim and Tribal MLAs in the cabinet.
This is a legitimate demand as Dalits and Muslims are particularly under-represented in the crucial ministries, despite the fact that these communities voted strongly for the Congress in the state elections.
The complaint is that since Gehlot himself is not from a numerically strong caste (Mali), he has given inordinate importance to dominant castes like Jats, Rajputs, Brahmins and Banias.
The buzz is that at least three Sachin Pilot loyalists could get accommodated in the reshuffle and maybe a few of the existing ministers could face the axe.
However, Pilot skipped the dinner thrown by Gehlot for MLAs at his residence. He also skipped the meeting of Tonk district legislators with Maken, despite being a legislator from there. However, he had met Maken during a visit to Delhi.
It is possible that despite Gehlot's reservations, the consultation process and the negative feedback against certain ministers would add some weight to the demands for their removal.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE CONGRESS NATIONALLY?
A reshuffle without much conflict in Rajasthan would no doubt be seen as another success for the party high command, after the containment of the Punjab crisis and the new appointments in the Telangana, Kerala and Uttarakhand state units.
This could then be replicated in other state units where organisational changes are overdue.
The party is likely to showcase these as the successes of Rahul Gandhi's 'process oriented' and 'consultative' approach.
However, these are still a work in progress and a lot depends on the leaders involved and the specificities of each state.
For instance, in Punjab, the Gandhis had to step in themselves to finally resolve the crisis despite a three member committee led by a senior leader like Mallikarjun Kharge being given that task.
In the previous crisis in Rajasthan, when Pilot was on the verge of an outright rebellion, the party high command found it difficult to get Gehlot to compromise. Maken being relatively junior to the Rajasthan CM also didn't help matters. But this time, the process seems to be going much more smoothly and Maken is getting praise for doing a patient and thorough, though time-consuming, job.
But the crisis in a number of other state units is far from resolved. For instance in Assam, the rumour is that another party MLA - Sushanta Borgohain from Thowra - could be on his way to joining the BJP. If that happens, the Congress would be down to just 3 MLAs in the politically crucial Upper Assam region, one of whom won mainly due to the AIUDF.
Then in Haryana, the party high command is yet to decide whether it wants to give in to the demand of pro-Hooda MLAs to change the state Congress unit chief.
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