It was supposed to be a repeat of 1998 when the legislative party of the Congress in Rajasthan was supposed to pass a one-line resolution authorising the Congress high command to decide on who should be the next chief minister of Rajasthan.
Stalwart Jat leader Parasram Maderna refused to raise the flag of the rebellion even though he enjoyed the support of the majority of the Congress MLAs and Ashok Gehlot become Chief Minister as a result.
The decision of the high command in 1998 proved right as the might of Maderna was counterbalanced by the glitterati of the Congress line up which included Balram Jakhar, Ramniwas Mirdha, Sisram Ola, Natwar Singh, Buta Singh and Naval Kishor Sharma.
The same script was to be played all over again in Jaipur on Sunday when the Congress legislative party was supposed to pass a one-line resolution. And after that Mallikarjun Kharge, the leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha accompanied by AICC state in-charge Ajay Maken was supposed to convey the decision of the high command – appointing young Sachin Pilot at the helm in Rajasthan as Chief Minister.
But an alternate script played out on Sunday evening as Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot was about to land in Jaipur from his day-long visit to much revered Tanot Temple near the International border in Jaisalmer. Congress MLAs started to gather at the residence of senior minister Shanti Dhariwal.
“We have been told by the Congress Chief Whip to come here,” Krishna Poonia – former Olympian and MLA from Rajgarh in Churu told reporters as television crews jostled to record sound bites of MLAs going for the meeting. Urban development minister Shanti Dhariwal, PWD Minister Mahesh Joshi, and Chief Whip Mahendra Chaudhary were already present at the venue as hosts.
As news of the supposed rebellion by MLAs against the high command’s decision broke on national television, Gehlot issued a statement saying that one line resolution would be passed at the meeting to authorise the high command for any decision. Then he went to meet Kharge and Maken along with PCC Chief Govind Dotasara.
The Congress legislative party was supposed to meet at 7 pm but it continued to get delayed till late evening. Around 90 Congress MLAs, on the other hand, decided to pay a visit to Speaker Dr CP Joshi and hand over their resignations. They accused the high command of imposing their view without consulting them.
A three-member delegation representing the MLAs later visited the Chief Minister’s residence around midnight to inform Kharge and Maken about their decision, while the lawmakers dined at Joshi’s residence.
The MLAs demanded from the high command that Ashok Gehlot should continue as the Chief Minister in Rajasthan, and if he is made AICC president then someone from those who stayed loyal to the party during the 2020 'coup' attempt by Pilot, should be given an opportunity.
Kharge and Maken are now supposed to submit their report on the Rajasthan crisis to Sonia Gandhi. Sachin Pilot left for Delhi late at night and sources say that Gehlot is also been instructed to reach Delhi.
Ashok Gehlot has never been interested in shifting to Delhi. Even as AICC president, he wished either he could continue as Rajasthan Chief Minister or someone close to him holds the reins while he continues to multi-task.
Scripted Drama or a Rebellion?
Political pundits in Jaipur believe that what unfolded on Sunday night in Jaipur was too perfect to be an instant angry reaction of the MLAs. All the close confidants of Gehlot were seen managing the show. While Gehlot reportedly told AICC general secretary (organisation) KC Venugopal over the phone, “The situation is now out of my hands.”
Sources say that KC Venugopal was given the responsibility to update Sonia Gandhi regarding Gehlot’s view about his elevation as AICC president and that he wanted to wait till the Gujarat election before taking the plunge. But Venugopal, as per sources, could not convey the message in time and Sonia Gandhi told off Gehlot to abdicate the throne in favour of Sachin Pilot.
Gehlot tried his best to convince Rahul Gandhi to become AICC president but he was lectured about the ‘one man one post’ resolution passed by the party in the Udaipur conclave.
Pilot Still an Outsider?
Originally from Baidpura, a village in Greater Noida, Sachin Pilot has been a Member of Parliament from Dausa, and Ajmer and currently is MLA from Tonk. He has also worked as PCC president for around six years after the Congress was decimated to 21 seats in 2013.
But experts believe that Sachin Pilot carries an air of ‘elitism’ which hinders his direct connection with the Congress workers in Rajasthan. Moreover, very few of those considered loyal to Pilot in Rajasthan Congress could be termed ‘winning horses,’ when it comes to electoral politics.
Thus, there is a cult of Sachin Pilot in the state Congress but most of them could not withstand the rigor and grind of electoral politics. This was exactly the reason that Gehlot was chosen as Chief Minister for the third term in 2018 over Sachin Pilot, who was spearheading the party in the state in the election.
Though the Bidhuri clan of Gurjars – one that Pilot belongs to, is not dominant in Rajasthan, the local Gurjar community has accepted Sachin Pilot wholeheartedly. Gurjars hold the key to success in around 65 assembly segments in Rajasthan and they had voted for congress en-masse in 2018.
Moreover, the 18 MLAs who were part of Team Pilot during the 2020 coup attempt had an interesting community mix: Jat, Rajput, Vaishya, Meena, Dalit, Brahmin, and obviously Gurjars.
But today, around 90 MLAs have come out openly against Pilot, despite clear support from Congress high command. This clearly calls for introspection.
“It is like union ministers Bhupendra Yadav or Ashwini Vaishnav in BJP dreaming about becoming Chief Minister of Rajasthan,” said a source. Bangaru Laxman was national president of the BJP but he was no one in the state politics, he added.
Doubts Over Gehlot's 'Absolute' Loyalty
There is one virtue in politics i.e. ‘loyalty’. Ashok Gehlot is the most prominent example of ‘absolute loyalty’ in contemporary politics. Gehlot was a perfect choice for the Gandhis for AICC president as they desperately wanted to thwart allegations of ‘pariwarwad’.
Though Gehlot never denied any wish of the high command, he is not ready to leave his home turf. “Posts do not matter for me as I have been on various post for the last 40 years. The younger generation should get a chance,” he said in Tanot, Jaisalmer on Sunday.
But this didn't reflect in his decisions as CM. In around 45 political postings done by Gehlot recently, many were accused of being ‘spent cartridges’ who were rewarded only because it suited him politically. Pilot loyalists were mostly given lower positions.
Thus, even if ‘survival of self’ is the only strategy Gehlot understands, he has failed to strive for greatness in politics by lengthening his political lineage through an able protégé. “In politics, you have to outgrow the opponent and not cut down,” he always maintains but failed to follow his own philosophy.
Gehlot has failed miserably to promote ‘young’ leadership in Rajasthan while Sachin Pilot remained the only visible option in the eyes of high command. The likes of Jyoti Mirdha are sidelined while Harish Chaudhary, Raghu Sharma, Govind Dotasara could not prove their worth when given the chance.
Divya Maderna will have to go through the gruel of dusty politics of Marwar before filling the shoes of her grandfather or even father. It seems Ashok Gehlot neither found any young leaders, nor did he intend to develop a future leadership.
The drama that unfolded in Rajasthan may have undone Sachin Pilot but Gehlot hasn't escaped unscathed. His ‘absolute loyalty’ is now in question and the next chapter in Rajasthan politics would start only when he shifts to Delhi as a full-time AICC president, if he does at all that is.
The more things change, the more they remain the same in Rajasthan, and the catchphrase of Ashok Gehlot remains the same, “Mai Thasu Door Nahi” – I am never away from you.
(The writer is an ex-journalist based in Jaipur. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)