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Why Sachin Pilot is Getting Impatient Over Congress' Indecision On Ashok Gehlot

The fresh flare-up is likely to become Kharge's first important test since becoming Congress president.

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With the fight for the top post of the Rajasthan government reigniting between CM Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot once again, the incident is likely to become the first test for the new Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge. Since becoming president in October, this is the first significant and very public brawl between two party leaders that Kharge has been faced with.

While it was always on the cards that the newly appointed president will have to take a call on the matter—impending since September—Pilot's explicit statement reminding that the matter remains unresolved has added further urgency to the matter.

Moreover, Kharge was one of the two AICC observers responsible for looking into the alleged indiscipline that took place in Rajasthan in September, with leaders of the Gehlot camp defying the leadership by not showing up at the Congress Legislative Party (CLP) meet. Thus he is already expected to have made a decision by now.

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But Kharge dragging his feet on the issue also has to do with the complexity of the situation emerging in Rajasthan and also the fact that Gehlot has a key responsibility in the Gujarat election campaign.

Gehlot And Modi Exchange Praise

On Tuesday, PM Narendra Modi attended an event 'Mangarh Dham Ki Gaurav Gatha' programme in Banswara. The event was attended by three sitting CMs: Gujarat’s Bhupendra Patel of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh’s Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Gehlot himself. But Modi made it a point to address Gehlot separately and praise him.

“As CMs we worked together. Ashok Gehlot was the senior-most in our tribe and even today he is the senior-most CM among those who are sitting on the stage,” PM Modi said.

Gehlot too returned the compliments, but cleverly couched it in generic praise for India and its stature in the world. “PM Modi gets a lot of respect in the world mainly because of Mahatma Gandhi. Today, even after 70 years of independence, democracy prevails in Gandhi’s India. This is the reason why Narendra Modi gets respect when he goes abroad as the Prime Minister of India,” Gehlot said.

Since this was an official event, this exchange didn’t raise too many eyebrows. However, Congress sources told The Quint that after the event Gehlot and the PM met and chatted separately for a good fifteen minutes. Pilot saw an opportunity here and hit out at Gehlot. “I find the heaps of praises by PM Modi (on CM Gehlot) very interesting. The PM had similarly praised Ghulam Nabi Azad in Parliament. We saw what happened after that. It was an interesting development yesterday. It shouldn’t be taken lightly,” Pilot told reporters on Wednesday.

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This was very clearly an attempt at insinuating allegations of potentially deceiving the Congress and jumping ship towards the BJP. In fact this has been the Gehlot camp’s consistent accusation against Pilot since his alleged rebellion in 2020, after which he was removed from the post of Deputy CM. Congress sources said this was Pilot’s way of ‘giving it back’ and accusing Gehlot of the same suspicious and damaging behaviour.

Congress Dragging its Feet On The Matter

It should be noted Pilot had especially called local reporters to speak to them about this matter, indicating how this was a well-strategised move. Not only did he imply wrong-doing on Gehlot’s part, for the praise exchanged with PM Modi, but also sought to remind the Congress leadership of the promised disciplinary action. “The rules are the same for all. So, if indiscipline occurred and replies were given, action should be taken,” Pilot said. In September, a show cause notice was issued against Gehlot camp leaders and state ministers Shanti Dhariwal, Mahesh Joshi, and Dharmendra Rathore for their “grave indiscipline”. It was also said that the AICC observers and the leadership will take a decision on the future of Rajasthan’s leadership soon. But this was back on 25 September, well over a month ago.

Congress sources have said that the party doesn’t intend to “destabilise” anything in Rajasthan until after the Bharat Jodo Yatra passes the state. As per the party schedule, the Rahul Gandhi-led Yatra is scheduled to reach Rajasthan in the first week of December. The yatra will then continue for 15-20 days in Rajasthan, before moving on to another state. So even if Gehlot is removed from the CM post and replaced with Pilot thereafter, that will leave the latter with very little time to establish himself as the leader-in-command before the Rajasthan assembly elections slated for December 2023.

This is the primary reason behind Pilot’s seeming ‘impatience’-- the need to avoid a Punjab-Channi like incident. In Punjab, Charanjit Singh Channi was appointed as the CM just a few months prior to the election, not leaving him with much time to assert himself or show enough performance to take the party to the victory. But this is also the concern that the Congress high-command is grappling with: is destabilising the Rajasthan state leadership, so close to the elections, worth it? But Kharge dragging his feet on the decision will not only set the course for the rest of his tenure as the president, but it won’t necessary keep things from simmering to a boil in Rajasthan either.

Impact On Perception Of Congress In Rajasthan

Within Rajasthan Congress, there is growing restlessness over the long-drawn passive-aggressive tussle between Gehlot and Pilot. Ever since the 2020 attempted rebellion by the latter, the BJP has accused the state government of functioning on unstable grounds and thus failing to deliver governance effectively.

This fresh salvo has led to BJP levelling similar allegations again.

“Rajasthan Congress is divided into two factions of Ashok Gehlot & Sachin Pilot due to which governance in state is affected,” Union Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal said.

Similarly, Gajendra Singh Sehkhawat told ANI that “In this squabble, Gehlot's focus has been diverted from the governance of the state. All the development schemes of Rajasthan have come to a standstill. The law and order situation is in bad shape.”

While Gehlot reacted to Pilot’s allegations with a certain nonchalance, tweeting that “K.C. Venugopal [General Secretary, organisation] has asked everybody in the party to not make any such remarks. We want everybody to follow discipline.”

But sources said that Rajasthan Congress leaders and party workers are increasingly worried about this matter. “Two senior leaders of the party in the state fighting like this, first indirectly and now so explicitly doesn’t look good. It is certain that the BJP will use this to its benefit in the upcoming elections. It also shows a lack of authority and power of the central leadership...for stalling action on this. Whatever the action be, something should be done or it will seem like the leadership is neglecting the issues of Rajasthan Congress,” a party member said.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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