Finally, Ashok Gehlot has his way. He will continue as a chief minister and would not contest for the post of the Congress president. He has been reluctant from the very beginning to leave the State and move over to Delhi. His profuse apology tendered to acting Congress Chief Sonia Gandhi for the unprecedented revolt by his followers in Rajasthan should be treated as curtains on an unseemly episode.
Gehlot, 71, would have retired from politics after his tenure as party’s national president. That would have been a grand finale to his illustrious career which began as a worker and took him places. He was an active worker during Emergency, then close to Rajiv Gandhi, PV Narasimha Rao and Sonia Gandhi, AICC General Secretary, Union Minister and chief minister thrice. He was essentially an organization man loyal to Gandhi family. A colourful career would have ended on a highly successful note. But he was keen on continuing as chief minister. He was also not able to forgive Sachin.
Addressing a media conference after his meeting with Sonia on Thursday afternoon, Gehlot significantly said ‘whether I remain chief minister is up to Sonia Gandhi.’ He said he has been a loyal Congressman for more than fifty years and would continue to be so. Gehlot would not, most probably, be disturbed from the post of chief minister till the elections next year. If he manages to get majority of his loyal colleagues elected again, he might become chief minister for the fourth term as well.
Gehlot’s bête noir Sachin Pilot has been solely dependent on his relationship with the Gandhi family members to fulfill his ambition of becoming the chief minister. He does not have the numbers. The maximum number of MLAs he could muster was 18 which is less than one-fifth of the party’s strength in the Assembly. It was not right on the part of Priyanka Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi to promise the top job to a person who has meager support in the legislature party. It should not have been made a prestigious issue for Gandhi family whether Sachin is made chief minister or not. Gehlot was right in asserting himself although the embarrassing revolt by more than 90 MLAs who threatened to resign could have been avoided. The error was taking the MLAs for granted without knowing their mood. In their enthusiasm to impress Gehlot, his supporters went to the extent of putting forth conditions such as deciding on the post of chief minister only after the party’s presidential elections are over and the new chief minister should be one among those MLAs who supported Gehlot when Sachin rebelled in 2020. In other words, the MLAs loyal to Gehlot made it abundantly clear that they would not accept Sachin as their leader at any cost. One cannot find fault with them given the levels of acrimony in the party in the light of revolt by young Pilot. The party high command was at fault in supporting a leader who does not have majority in the legislature party for the chief minister’s post despite its sympathies.
Things would not have gone thus far had Ahmed Patel, the famous Sonia’s aide and the experienced trouble shooter, been around. He would have advised Sonia Gandhi not to back Sachin Pilot who does not enjoy majority and that imposing him on Gehlot loyalists would backfire and not enhance the party’s prospects in coming elections. In their anxiety to see that Sachin would not go Jyotiraditya Scindia’s way, Rahul and Priyanka had promised to make the young rebel the chief minister. They did not bargain for the scenario where the MLAs would dare to defy the high command and refuse to meet its emissaries, Ajay Maken and Mallikharjun Kharge, to pass a single line resolution leaving the choice of the chief minister to Sonia Gandhi. The emissaries on their part had submitted a report to Sonia Gandhi accusing Gehlot loyalists of indiscipline. Three senior Rajasthan ministers were issued show-cause notice. That the MLAs would not have done what they did without Gehlot’s nod is beyond doubt. In the olden days when party high command was very strong and the chief ministers were weak, this kind of strategies of dismissing and appointing chief ministers at the drop of a hat had worked. When Indira Gandhi was prime minister, four chief ministers were changed in the united Andhra Pradesh during 1978-83 giving scope to NT Rama Rao to campaign on the slogan of self-respect and sweep the elections. Times have changed and the party has been out of power at the centre for more than eight years.
Now that Gehlot is out of the picture in election to the office of Congress president, the ‘friendly’ fight will be between Shashi Tharoor and Digvijay Singh slated to take place on October 17. One who gets indirect support or sponsorship from the party’s high command would win. If the Gandhi family keeps neutral and the delegates choose their president on merit, it would be truly fair elections.
Between the two, the former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh is known to be a bad manager of things while Shashi Tharoor is untested and otherwise eminently qualified. The former chief minister was largely responsible for TRS not merging with the Congress in 2014 and contesting the elections on its own. Had he not messed it, K. Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) would have been heading the Congress government in Telangana today. Had Digvijay allowed KCR to become chief minister for once, things would have been entirely different. Digvijay behaved recklessly despite sane advice by S. Jaipal Reddy, the then union minister. What the senior leader did in Goa in 2017 was another fiasco. Recently he said at Kanya Kumari that TRS and YSRCP could join hands with the Congress. It caused confusion among the people on the seriousness of the Congress’ fight against the TRS in Munugode by-election.
Shashi Tharoor, on the other hand, is a known name internationally since he worked for United Nations. He was elected thrice from Thiruvananthapuram constituency. A good speaker and a reputed author, he can make a good president of the party. He can attract the youth and the intellectuals. But then, he lacks in experience of running a party as diverse and disunited as the Congress. Most importantly, Sonia Gandhi has to forget and forgive the acts of defiance on the part of Tharoor and others among the G-23 which has been depleted with resignations of half a dozen vocal leaders.
Would the Rajasthan developments shadow Rahul’s walkathon? Unlikely. It has been going on well. The Kerala leg was a huge success. Rahul is being perceived as a serious politician. He has been talking less and listening more. Whatever little he said was sensible and responsible. His walk is beyond the day-to-day problems faced by the Congress party. His discourse is aimed at changing the path of polarization the country has been dangerously treading for eight years. Two other issues have been rising unemployment and spiraling prices. He has been confined to these issues. He did not utter a word against the Left-Front government in Kerala. The Bharat Jodo Yatra would enter Karnataka now. Rajasthan developments and the issues rising out of the contest for the post of Congress president would not have any bearing on the yatra. The Karnataka government is more unpopular than the one in Kerala. Rahul is expected to attract more crowds in Karnataka.