Panchayat Poll Debacle Signals Another Round of Turf War in Rajasthan Congress
Congress managed to form their board in 49 Panchayat Samitis out of 78 and BJP managed to form its board in 25.
At around 10 am on Monday, 6 September, Rama Devi, the Congress councillor from Ward Number 17 reached Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state office in Jaipur. She was flanked by senior BJP leader Rajendra Rathore and welcomed into the BJP fold by state president Satish Poonia.
The drama then unfolded at a fast pace and by the afternoon, the BJP had managed to wrest the crucial Jaipur zila parishad from the ruling Congress party in Rajasthan, despite the latter having a clear majority.
Congress had won 27 out of 50 seats but fell short of majority as two of their own councillors crossed over to BJP.
The Sequence of Events
High drama unfolded at the Jaipur collectorate after the voting for the zila pramukh took place on Monday afternoon.
Agitated Congress workers tried to manhandle another defector – Jaiky Kumar – while he was boarding the bus with BJP councillors. The police had to resort to baton charge to control the situation.
Kumar's mentor Ved Prakash Solanki, Congress MLA from Chaksu, tried to meet him in the melee, but to no avail.
Rajendra Rathore was present at the Jaipur collectorate, managing the show for BJP, while Congress chief whip Mahesh Joshi also reached the spot but could not salvage the situation for the party.
In a last-minute manoeuvre, BJP managed to get Devi, the Ward Number 17 Congress councillor, to defect and declared her the zila pramukh candidate. With Kumar cross-voting for BJP, they now had a thin majority of 26 out of 50 votes.
Ashok Gehlot Rattled
The defection in Congress took place right under the nose of the Ashok Gehlot-led government, which rattled the chief minister himself.
In a statement, Gehlot accused BJP of horse trading and said that the people involved were the same as those who had tried to dislodge his government last year.
It is being considered as the most scathing attack by Gehlot on the Sachin Pilot faction after the failed coup orchestrated by him last year in July.
The double-edged statement by Gehlot was also aimed at Ved Prakash Solanki and BJP leaders like Satish Poonia and Rajendra Rathore, who were actively managing the zila parishad election in Jaipur.
Congress leaders managing elections were not able to reach out to cross-voter Kumar to salvage the situation.
PCC Chief Govind Dotasara later declared that the "sabotage" in the Jaipur zila parishad election was orchestrated by insiders.
“The Congress high command has sought a report on the matter and it will be submitted soon to the state in-charge Ajay Maken,” Dotasara said.
The Political Threat From Jagat Singh
The Congress in Rajasthan had won a majority in five out of six zila parishad boards but managed to get zila pramukhs elected in only three places.
In Jaipur, lethargy in election management led to loss of face for the ruling party while in Bharatpur, they did not have any answer to the political might of Jagat Singh, son of former foreign minister Natwar Singh.
Singh, a BJP leader, had only 14 out 37 seats in his kitty but managed to get 28 votes to become zila pramukh of Bharatpur.
Not only did independent and BSP councillors vote for Singh, he also managed to get some Congress councillors to vote for him.
He is being seen as a direct political threat to the former scion of Bharatpur Royal family and Congress MLA from Deeg Vishvendra Singh and RLD MLA from Bharatpur Subhash Garg, who is MoS in the Gehlot government.
What Happened in Other Zila Parishads?
In Jodhpur, Chief Minister Gehlot managed to convince the rebel candidates to withdraw in favour of Leela Maderna, wife of Mahipal Maderna and mother of Congress MLA from Osian, Divya Maderna.
Congress' Hira Lal Saini became zila pramukh in Dausa while Sudama won Sawai Madhopur for the ruling party. In Sirohi, BJP’s Arjun Purohit becoming zila pramukh is proving to be a loss of face for independent MLA Sanyam Lodha.
In all, Congress managed to form their board in 49 Panchayat Samitis out of 78 that went to polls in six districts while BJP managed to form its board in 25.
RLP of Nagaur MP Hanuman Beniwal formed a board in two Panchayat Samitis – Jodhpur districts of Chamu and Baori.
The Sachin Pilot Factor
Interestingly, the Sachin Pilot factor continued to work against Congress in eastern Rajasthan and Gujjar dominated Dudu area in Jaipur district. Gujjars in Rajasthan are unhappy with the Congress as it has ignored Pilot for the CM's post.
Independent MLA from Dudu, Babu Lal Nagar, a known bête noir of Pilot, faced a setback as his son could not win the Dudu Panchayat Samiti election.
The Congress faced the wrath of Gujjars in Phagi and Mojamabad as well where BJP secured a majority in panchayat samitis. Independent MLA Ramkesh Meena and Om Prakash Hudla could not get a majority in Panchayat Samiti of Gangapur in Sawai Madhopur and Mahua in Dausa district respectively. All three belong to the Ashok Gehlot faction and stood firmly with him during the coup last year.
The Panchayat election results in Rajasthan have again revealed the chinks in Congress' armour. The Gehlot vs Pilot tussle is likely to intensify with the government completing half its tenure.
The Pilot camp is yet to respond to the statement by the chief minister but a clash is inevitable. The high command may be put in a tight spot.
(Arvind Singh is a freelance journalist from Jaipur.)
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