Will the Congress lose another government in Rajasthan just as it did in Madhya Pradesh barely a few months ago? Will Sachin Pilot follow his ex-colleague Jyotiraditya Scindia and join the BJP? Will the Congress High Command behave like a mute spectator and let senior members of the Congress damage the party? Will the Congress do some soul-searching and get rid of old leaders who, after running the party for decades, are still not ready to cede space? And finally, does the Congress have the willpower to start afresh?
The latest crisis in Rajasthan is symptomatic of the larger malaise which has afflicted the party for a long time. Sachin Pilot should ideally have been made the Chief Minister when the Congress won the state in December 2018. Instead, an old warhorse, Ashok Gehlot, was chosen and Pilot was asked to wait. Sachin Pilot had toiled hard in Rajasthan as the state party president for five years while the BJP’s Vasundhara Raje was Chief Minister. When she was displaced, Sachin Pilot should have got the credit and been rewarded with the Chief Ministership but the manipulation in Delhi by senior members close to Sonia Gandhi sabotaged his chances. Old leaders prevailed upon Sonia to make Ashok Gehlot the chief minister. Pilot apparently felt betrayed and cried on his mentor Rahul Gandhi’s shoulder. A compromise formula was devised to placate Pilot. He was made Deputy Chief Minister and told to continue as the state Congress president. Since then, Gehlot has made every effort to marginalise Pilot. The notice issued by the Special Operations Group (SOG) to Pilot to appear before it to record his statement on the issue of a larger conspiracy to dislodge the Gehlot government is seen by Pilot as an attempt to further humiliate him and possibly provoke him into leaving the party so that Gehlot can run the government single-handedly.
The story, woven in Rajasthan by the Gehlot camp, is that the BJP is trying to dislodge his government. An audio conversation has been taped by the police department in which two small-time BJP leaders are talking about how Pilot could move to the BJP with his MLAs. An FIR has been filed. Now a notice has been issued for questioning to both the Chief Minister and his Deputy, which is unprecedented. But if one reads the FIR carefully, it very clearly underlines the fact that it is a chargesheet in disguise against Pilot. Therefore, his fury is understandable.
In the FIR, Pilot has been indirectly painted as someone who is ready to oust the government with the help of the BJP now that astrologically it is an opportune time to do so. This period starts after June 30. It is important to note that Gehlot is also the Home Minster of Rajasthan and agencies handling the investigation report to him.
This is by no means the first time of talk of Pilot being ready to swap parties.
It is said that he had a long meeting with the late Arun Jaitley in London and a lucrative offer was made. This was reportedly followed up by a series of informal meetings with Prakash Javdekar, a senior cabinet minister in the Modi government who has been the in-charge of the Rajasthan BJP. Pilot’s father, Rajesh Pilot, is was a major Gujjar leader with a mass base in the community. Gujjars are powerful not only in Rajasthan but also in western UP, Delhi, Haryana and parts of Jammu and Kashmir. Sachin has assiduously built his image as that of a modern community leader with a great future in Indian politics. He is also politically smarter than Jyotiraditya Scindia, who just left the Congress for the BJP. Pilot knows that as long as Vasundhara Raje holds sway over BJP legislators in the state, he has no chance of becoming Chief Minister. A cabinet berth would mean he operates without any power like any other minister in Modi’s cabinet. Age is on his side. Once Gehlot is out, the state will be his – but that timeline is crucial.
In my opinion, this crisis is a golden opportunity for the Congress leadership to set things right. A new Kamaraj Plan is needed to galvanise the organisation and cadre. Senior leaders like Gehlot who could not win the Lok Sabha seat for his son in 2019 should be told that if they really want Congress to stand on its feet and regain its old glory, they should work as a think tank in the party and younger leaders like Sachin and Bhupesh Baghel should fight the battle in the states.
If Gehlot continues as Chief Minister, the Congress will sooner or later lose Rajasthan. Gehlot may stave this off for a few months but permanent damage will be done to the Congress which must accept that it needs Sachin more than Gehlot, it needs young and energetic leaders more than old manipulative ones. Will the high command be bold like the RSS in 2009, when it brought Nitin Gadkari from nowhere, despite the presence of the Gang of Four in Delhi? The Congress has nothing to lose. A new experiment might work wonders. Certainly, status quo is getting it nowhere.
(Ashutosh is a Delhi-based author and journalist.)
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