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In Rajasthan, Punjab model of leadership could help Congress

However, no inclusive bouquet of identities would work without the Congress projecting a chief ministerial face.

analysis Updated: Feb 04, 2018 07:38 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
New Delhi, Hindustan Times
Rajasthan,Punjab,Congress
Congress supporters celebrate in Ajmer on February 1. (File)

The green shoots the Congress sees in Rajasthan could be a precursor to the crop it might harvest in the assembly polls later this year. But for the expected to happen, the party will need to iron out competing ambitions within — controlling temperaments, balancing egos in sync with the popular mood.

The conundrum requires quick resolution. For now there aren’t two but three aspirants to the chief ministerial slot: Ashok Gehlot, Sachin Pilot and Jitendra Singh.

If the Ajmer seat the Congress wrested from the BJP was earlier held by Pilot, Alwar is Singh’s erstwhile constituency.

Together with Gehlot, credit is due to them for the party’s stellar show in the state which, by most accounts, is a low-hanging fruit for the Congress.

It would help perhaps if the leadership blend is a replication of Punjab, where seasoned campaigner Amarendra Singh led the show with Navjot Sidhu pumping extra energy into the campaign.

That poll-time symbolism has lately been under a cloud in Punjab. But the problem seems containable. In Rajasthan, however, Gehlot does not, unlike Amarendra, belong to a dominant caste. His value is in his amenable persona, pan-Rajasthan appeal and understated social identity.

A Mali (horticulturist) by caste, he poses no societal challenge to other groups: the Gujjars, Meenas, Rajputs and Jats. Muslims in any case are without option. But Gehlot’s previous tenures as chief minister had him at the receiving end of the Jat anger. Likewise, Sachin’s Gujjar community is forever uncomfortable with the Meenas and Singh’s Rajput clansmen don’t see eye to eye with the Jats. These inter-caste complexities demand special care, both in terms of candidate selection and emphasis on individuals while setting up the electoral challenge. In the recent bye-polls, the Congress received the support of Jats and Rajputs.

The big question is whether the tenuous ground-level rapprochement bred by their shared antipathy for chief minister Vasundhara Raje will sustain in the run-up to polls?

The Raje dispensation is dominated by Rajputs but the Padmavat uproar saw the combative community backing the Congress on a rebound. Speculation is also rife that Shri Rajput Karni Sena leader Lokendra Singh Kalvi could hitch on the anti-Raje bandwagon.

He has flirted with the BJP and the Congress in the past. It looks more expedient for him to ally with the Congress this time. If Kalvi does warm up to the Congress, the Rajput vote will consolidate in the party’s favour, regardless of his disapprobation in Urban India.

That leaves the Jats. At one time the Congress had in its fold a number of weighty leaders: Ram Nivas Mirdha, Paras Ram Maderna, Sis Ram Ola and Balram Jhakhar. But they all have passed into history. Maderna’s son Mahipal is in jail in the Bhanwari Devi murder case. Even Col (retd) Sona Ram is with the BJP since 2104. He left the Congress and got elected from Barmer, defeating estranged BJP veteran Jaswant Singh.

The void perhaps can be filled by the likes of Badri Jhakhar, who represents in the state assembly Jodhpur’s Bhopalgarh seat associated with Maderna. “The Congress faces must be a bouquet of social groups,” said Raghu Rathore of the erstwhile Jodhpur royalty: “That’ll take care of inter-caste rivalries…”

But no inclusive bouquet of identities would work without the Congress projecting a chief ministerial face. For Narendra Modi’s stock hasn’t tanked despite widespread disenchantment with Raje — whose replacement at this late stage could be a double-edged weapon. Her ejection, if at all, will not be without intra-BJP tremors.

As for the Congress, one wrong move and it’ll be chasing a chimera in the Thar.

(vinodsharma@hindustantimes.com)

First Published: Feb 04, 2018 07:37 IST