As the Congress party continues to bask in the glory of its success in the recently concluded Karnataka Assembly elections, its Rajasthan house seems to be getting more and more out of order.
The scale of infighting within the Rajasthan Congress can be gauged from the visuals of an ugly fistfight between the supporters of chief minister Ashok Gehlot and former deputy CM Sachin Pilot in Ajmer that were flashed across TV news channels on 18 May.
The brawl took place just a week after Pilot started his Jan Sangharsh Yatra from Ajmer to demand action by Gehlot against alleged corruption by the previous Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by Vasundhara Raje.
Though Pilot said that his march was not against anyone in particular, the tone of it being anti-Gehlot was set.
"It looks like the CM's leader is not Sonia Gandhi but Vasundhara Raje," Pilot had said after Gehlot at an event in Dholpur remarked that Raje did not let Pilot's 2020 rebellion succeed.
"In 2020 (when Sachin Pilot rebelled), Vasundhara Raje said that it is not Rajasthan's tradition to make governments fall using money. Was she wrong? I will never forget what I went through back then," Gehlot had said.
Both leaders are slated to meet Mallikarjun Kharge in Delhi on Friday, 26 May, to decide the strategy for the upcoming Rajasthan elections but will the Congress president be able to engineer a peaceful resolution like he did in Karnataka?
The Rajasthan Congress infighting needs to be looked at from four key aspects:
1. What Sachin Pilot Wants
In one line, he wants to become the chief minister. But according to Pilot, he has three major demands from his own party for which he has given an ultimatum till the end of May.
Disbanding of Rajasthan's public service commission and its reconstitution
Compensation for those affected by government job exam paper leak cases
A high-level probe into charges of corruption against the previous Vasundhara Raje government
These demands were made throughout the 125-km 'Jan Sangharsh Yatra' that Pilot conducted last week, as the party high command was busy drawing strategies in Karnataka to decide between Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar as chief minister.
2. Why Congress Central Leadership Looks Inactive
The clout that Gehlot commands was on display twice in the past three years. When Pilot first revolted in 2020 leading to resort politics, he did not have the numbers to back him. Following an ugly exchange with certain explicates like nikamma and gaddar being used by Gehlot, the party had no choice but to strip Pilot of the deputy CM post.
Come 2023, when Gehlot was the clear frontrunner to become the Congress president and the path for Pilot to be elevated was almost clear, over 80% of the MLAs revolted in Rajasthan and threatened mass resignation hinting at a possible fall of the government. Once again, the party had no choice but to choose the government over Pilot.
In the meantime, the central leadership had been making attempts to pacify Pilot and urge him to be patient but that clearly is not an approach Pilot seems to be interested in.
So, while the party central leadership has not taken any stringent actions against Pilot following his revolts considering his proximity with the Gandhis, there are no attempts at pacification anymore either.
3. How is the BJP Playing It Out?
At a rally in Karnataka's Belur on 30 APril, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: "In all those states where the Congress is in power, the governments are known for infighting between leaders like in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh."
During the inauguration of Rajasthan's first Vande Bharat Express last month, Pilot was on a dharna against Gehlot. PM Modi took the opportunity and thanked Gehlot for showing up at the event despite facing a crisis in the party.
But these jibes by Modi may fall flat in Rajasthan with the party facing a similar crisis with Vasundhara Raje. Though the Rajasthan BJP has never had a public display of cracks like the Congress has, Raje is facing a tussle with not just prominent leaders within the BJP, but also with the party's central leadership.
Gehlot's recent recent remarks saying that it was Raje who helped save his government when Pilot tried to engineer a coup in 2020 didn't just give ammo to Pilot to attack Gehlot, but also to Raje's opponents within the BJP to target her in a bid to sideline her.
Amid Pilot's demands, Union Minister Gajendra Shekhawat in an interview to The Times of India (TOI) recently said: “When any individual faces corruption allegations, it is crucial for the government to commence a comprehensive investigation. The caveat is that this inquiry should remain untainted by political motives. Neither should an investigation be halted nor initiated this way, whether it involves Gajendra Singh or another BJP leader.”
Considering what happened in Karnataka after sidelining Yediyurappa, the BJP central leadership will have to think hard before sidelining Raje.
4. What Are the Choices Before Sachin Pilot?
a. Staying with the Congress:
Pilot's first option is to stay with the Congress but it will come at a cost. His relationship with most CLP leaders is not healthy. He does not enjoy the support like Gehlot does across the state. So the party won't replace him as the CM especially a few months ahead of the elections. The Congress is not in power at the Centre so there is no chance of him getting a berth there anytime soon. Hence, there's a deadlock for him within the Congress.
b. Joining hands with the BJP:
Switching to the BJP will not get Pilot much either. He has launched a campaign against Raje who still enjoys maximum support despite differences within the state BJP unit and with the party's high command. Moreover, would other senior leaders of the state BJP accept Pilot getting rewards like a berth at the Centre ahead of them? So, this option too looks closed for him.
c. Starting his own party:
Leaving the Congress and starting his own party to attempt to be a popular third front against the BJP and the Congress in the state could be an option for Pilot. An alliance by joining hands with AAP and the Hanuman Beniwal-led-Rashtriya Loktantrik Party, an offer which Beniwal has publicly given Pilot in the past, might work for him. But will that third front be as strong as the two traditional parties in the state? It would only mean Pilot having to wait longer for the CM chair.
So, Pilot is clearly in a deadlock and so is the Congress party when it comes to dealing with him in Rajasthan. Considering the less-than-lukewarm response to his protests that the central leadership is giving him, it looks like both sides are adopting a wait-and-watch policy, with the BJP looking to gain an advantage out of the crisis in the meantime.