The return of the native — CP Joshi — to Rajasthan politics has opened up a fresh chapter in the kissa kursi ka. At stake is the chief minister’s chair, over which Joshi had made an enemy of incumbent Ashok Gehlot.
On the face of it, his reinstatement hints at a dichotomy in the united front of the Congress party. While Joshi is backed by new guard Rahul Gandhi, his bête noire is close to party chief Sonia Gandhi.
But the real story is of a possible change of guard in the state. The Congress is hedging its bets. If it wins the assembly elections, Joshi could provide an alternative to Gehlot.
The twist in the script between Joshi and Gehlot came as late as in 2008 — and as the proverb goes, the man lost his kingdom for the “want of a horseshoe nail”.
It was in fact, Gehlot who had made Joshi PCC chief in 2007, clearing the decks for his takeover as chief minister. But the next year, as luck would have it, Joshi lost the assembly election from his bastion Nathdwara by just one vote to the BJP’s Kalyan Singh.
A recount after he approached the Rajasthan high court proved Singh had used foul play and the election was declared void.
But the damage was already done. By the time the matter was resolved, Gehlot was ensconced in the hot seat.
For the next year, Joshi remained a thorn in Gehlot’s side, and he finally had to ask Sonia to intervene. In 2009, Joshi was shifted to the Centre as minister, where he slowly worked his way in to Rahul’s confidence.
Gehlot is paying the price now.
Not only is Joshi back — he has got the ticket again for Nathdwara and has been made in charge of poll management and head of the campaign committee — lately, the surface bonhomie between the two men has cracked.
Joshi’s barbs have started stinging, forcing the suave chief minister to retaliate.
Regarding their personal equation, Joshi had once famously said he was not Gehlot’s follower but his collaborator, making it clear that he, in no way, considered himself a minion.
But in August, at a party meeting in Jaipur, Joshi said if the Congress was to come back to power, Gehlot would have to shed his “reservations” and take everyone along even if it meant “drinking poison”.
The reticent Gehlot, in a rare outburst, retorted that he was already consuming poison, which was why he had landed the top job.
Besides the political future of the two men, much rides on this snowballing factional feud — most importantly, the distribution of tickets.
Reaching a consensus has been difficult — hence the long-drawn meetings in Delhi. But so far, Joshi’s influence has been evident, with most of his candidates making it to the finishing line.
But will Joshi make it to 8 Civil Lines, the official residence of the chief minister? The free hand he is getting makes it incumbent upon him to deliver. For now, the tightrope stays.