NEW DELHI: The Congress has run into a sandstorm in the desert state of Rajasthan as the man being pushed for the party President’s post – Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot – has morphed overnight from being the “preferred candidate” of the Gandhis to a fullblown rebel.
In a political earthquake, the aftershocks of which would be felt for long by the Congress led by Sonia Gandhi, nearly 90 Gehlot supporters boycotted a meeting of the Congress Legislature Party called by AICC emissaries to evolve a consensus for former Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot on September 25, a day before nominations for the party President’s election were to start.
Though Gehlot later claimed he had no hand in the rebellion and apologised to Sonia Gandhi, the message was loud and clear. The once all-powerful and haughty high command of the Congress — read the Gandhi family —was neither high nor had any authority to command.
The twists and turns of the developments, have now confronted the Congress leadership with a Hamletian dilemma: what to do with Chief Minister Gehlot even if he is practically out of the race for party President’s post? Just like in Punjab a few months ago, the Gandhis have to decide whether to risk one of the few governments of their party, or sign up to the ‘No Pilot’ condition.
For the time being, the party leadership has gone through the disciplinarian move of issuing showcause notice to three Gehot loyalists. But the sheer futility of the gesture is hardly lost on anyone. Sonia Gandhi once ran the party with an iron hand with the late Ahmed Patel as the enforcer of decisions. Now even Gehlot, who had acquiesced to become the Congress President, was publicly insulting her authority.
The question of who becomes the next Congress President has also become somewhat irrelevant now. Each and every name being circulated for the job – Digvijay Singh, Shashi Tharoor and so on – derives its moral authority from proximity to the Gandhi family.
In fact Gehlot was the chosen one of the Gandhis to take over as the Congress President after Rahul Gandhi made it clear he would not officially hold the party’s top job. Gehlot was a suitable proxy.
At first Gehlot tried to ensure that becoming President – a job he did not want – would not wrest from him the job that he does want – Chief Minister. When Rahul Gandhi shot this down publicly, declaring that the party is committed to ‘one man one post’, Gehlot wanted to have a final say on his successor.
Trouble erupted when AICC General Secretary summoned a meeting of Congress MLAs in Jaipur to decide who would be the next Chief Minister. Some of them publicly accused him for canvassing for Sachin Pilot prior to the meeting.
No wonder, Sachin Pilot who had staged an aborted coup against Gehlot a year back, and his group of two dozen and odd MLAS were the only ones to attend the meeting. Eventually, an unrepentant Ashok Gehlot met Sachin Pilot, Ajay Maken and Mallikarjun Kharge around midnight in his bungalow and said “Mere haath mein kuch nahi hain” (these developments are not in my control). This after 80 MLAs had handed over their resignations to Speaker CP Joshi.
Currently it is deja vu for the Congress as an identical script of familiar family mismanagement had played out in Punjab culminating in Amarinder Singh quitting and the party losing the election in the state. Clearly, no lessons were learnt.