Ashok Gehlot vs Sachin Pilot: Why Congress Is Unlikely to Do a Punjab in Rajasthan

Speculation is rife that the Congress high command will take a firm decision to end the stalemate between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot. But the decision is unlikely to go against the chief minister.

Listen to this article:

After the appointment of Navjot Singh Sidhu as president of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee against the wishes of chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, political circles in Rajasthan are abuzz with speculation that the party high command will implement the same model for Rajasthan, too.

This gained prominence during the recent visit of K.C. Venugopal, general secretary in charge of organisation, and Ajay Maken, general secretary in charge of Rajasthan, to Jaipur. Political experts say a decision by the high command is expected to end the logjam between Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and beleaguered former deputy chief minister and Rajasthan PCC president Sachin Pilot. The chief minister is largely expected to have his way.

Ajay Maken, however, offered a different take on the purpose of the visit. “We are discussing cabinet expansion, appointment of party presidents at the district and block levels, and in boards and corporations, with our leaders. Everyone said the high command’s decision shall be acceptable to them,” he said, talking to reporters in Jaipur.

Apart from talks with Gehlot, PCC chief Govind Singh Dotasra and Pilot, Maken had one-on-one interactions with the party legislators on July 28 and 29 to gather feedback. During this two-day visit, Maken sought opinions of MLAs on the government’s performance, working of ministers, political appointments and appointments in the organisation, and on how the party could return to power in the 2023 assembly election.

File photo of Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot, Sachin Pilot and Avinash Pande. Photo: PTI

Meanwhile, on July 28, chief minister Gehlot reviewed the implementation of ‘Jan Ghoshna Patra’ (party manifesto) released during the 2018 assembly election. Senior journalist Mukesh Sharma says this was an exercise to prepare the ground for changes in the council of ministers, along with political and organisational appointments.

“A cabinet reshuffle is pending for a long time in Rajasthan. This was expected soon after Gehlot tided over the political crises last year with support of independent legislators and the merger of six BSP MLAs with the Congress legislature party. The rescuers were expected to be rewarded. Political and organisational appointments are also long awaited. Taking feedback from legislators and review of the manifesto are steps towards these pending actions,” Sharma told The Wire.

Also read | Ashok Gehlot vs Sachin Pilot: A Timeline of How the Rajasthan Crisis Unfolded

On the question of which faction is supposed to get preference, Sharma says, “The high command’s signal is clear: the decision will be according to the choice of the person who wields most support. Sachin Pilot will get only as much attention in the changes as Ashok Gehlot will concede. A maximum of three MLAs from the Pilot camp may get ministerial berths but it is possible that these three are will be chosen by Gehlot himself. In political and organisational appointments, too, Pilot will get limited share.”

If what Sharma is predicting turns out to be true, it will be a loss for Pilot because he will become politically weaker than before. When Pilot famously revolted in July last year with 18 MLAs, he was the deputy chief minister and PCC president, and two of his camp members were cabinet ministers.

The party terminated the three from their positions. Pilot has had his ghar wapasi but he has not been returned his political power yet.

Political analyst Tarun Dutt blames Pilot’s political misadventures for this loss of face. “Pilot committed three mistakes in the last two and a half years – one, he jumped into the fray in the 2018 assembly elections almost as the declared chief ministerial candidate; two, he agreed to take the deputy chief minister’s post after losing the chief minister’s throne to Gehlot; and three, revolted without the requisite number of MLAs with him and later retracted without any gains.”

Congress MLAs supporting Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot stage a sit-in protest at the Raj Bhawan demanding Governor Kalraj Mishra convene an urgent Assembly session, in Jaipur, Friday, July 24, 2020. Photo: PTI

Dutt says Pilot is paying for these. “Today, some of those 18 MLAs have also jumped ship and are said to be in the Gehlot camp and those who stuck with Pilot aren’t as vocal in his support as they earlier were. There are only two or three legislators now who openly bat for Pilot as their leader. As a matter of fact, after losing the battle of supremacy to Gehlot, Pilot is now struggling to keep himself politically relevant in the state. His entire strategy revolves around this fact alone,” says the political analyst.

In Punjab, the wishes of the sitting chief minister were ignored in favour of Sidhu. Does this mean that such a thing can happen in Rajasthan?

Also read: With Sidhu’s Show of Strength in Amritsar, Tide Appears to Be Turning in Punjab Congress

National editor of Hindi daily Dainik Bhaskar, Laxmi Prasad Pant doesn’t think this is possible anytime soon. “There’s a major difference between the political situations in Punjab and Rajasthan,” he says. “In Punjab, Sindhu enjoyed the patronage of the party’s central leadership. In Rajasthan, the high command seems to be backing Gehlot instead of Pilot.”

Another factor due to which the party is unlikely to do a Punjab in Rajasthan is the fact that Navjot Singh Sidhu’s and Sachin Pilot’s demands are different.

Sidhu has been made party chief in Punjab, while Pilot is unlikely to be after anything less than the chief minister’s position. “It is possible that the party high command may consider this major change only a few months before the 2023 assembly elections, but not before that,” Pant adds.

Avadhesh Akodia is an independent journalist. He tweets @AvadheshJpr