Former Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot’s appointment as Congress general secretary might keep him busy in poll-bound Gujarat but the veteran seems determined to have one foot in his home state.
And this has caused has caused heartburn in the rival camp owing allegiance to the party’s state chief Sachin Pilot.
Gehlot, a 66-year-old two-time chief minister, has launched a statewide yatra in memory of Jyotirao Govindrao Phule, also known as Mahatma Phule, an activist, thinker, social reformer and writer from Maharashtra. Phule and his wife, Savitribai Phule, were pioneers of women’s education in India and known for their efforts to educate women and the lower castes.
This is not the first time that Gehlot is conducting such a yatra on his own.
In 2007-2008, just before the assembly elections in Rajasthan, he organised the ‘Gandhi Jeevan Darshan’, a statewide tour to highlight the life and works of Mahatma Gandhi, without involving the Rajasthan Congress.
In the 2008 assembly elections, the Congress emerged as the largest party in the 200-member assembly, winning 96 seats, five short of a simple majority. Luck had favoured Gehlot when then state chief and a top front runner for the chief minister’s post, CP Joshi, lost from Nathdwara seat by just one vote.
However, Gehlot’s move to use the same strategy for the 2018 assembly elections has caused unease in the Sachin Pilot camp.
Gehlot and Pilot share uneasy relations and the differences came to the fore after the party’s defeat in the recent by-poll at Dholpur.
Gehlot took potshots at Pilot, saying the party lost due to over-confidence. “The conditions were favourable yet we lost because we were over confident. Also, a few wrong decisions were taken,” he said after the ruling BJP won the seat.
Pilot apparently did not want to escalate the matter, responding with a more conciliatory, “He (Gehlot) is a senior leader and whatever he says I always take it very seriously”.
Gehlot’s appointment as the party general secretary in-charge of Gujarat is widely seen as an attempt by the Congress high command to strike a balance of power in Rajasthan.
While Gehlot has once again been given a key position at the national level, the move will also give Pilot the much-needed political space and peace to function independently in the state.
Pilot was quick to wish Gehlot. “My best wishes to @ashokgehlot51 ji for his new assignment in Gujarat. We shall all work together to defeat the BJP in the upcoming polls,” he tweeted.
Gehlot too promptly thanked Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi for the appointment. “I profusely thank them for the faith they have shown in me and will try my best to fulfill the responsibility that they have given to me,” he said.
State Congress leaders owing allegiance to Pilot now hope that the appointment will keep Gehlot busy in the politically crucial state of Gujarat where assembly elections are due in November-December this year.
Gehlot has a huge task at hand to revive the party’s fortunes in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah given that the Congress is struggling to come back to power in he state for the past 22 years.
Prior to the fresh appointment, Gehlot also headed the party’s screening committee to shortlist candidates for the recently-concluded assembly elections in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. While the Congress won comfortably in Punjab, it lost badly in Uttar Pradesh despite an alliance with the Samajwadi Party.
In his previous stint as the Congress general secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh in 2006-2007, Gehlot failed to make any mark as the party could just manage to win just 22 out of the total 403 seats.