No differences remain, Rajasthan Cabinet rejig soon: Ajay Maken
After a public resolution to the turmoil in its Punjab unit, the Congress appears to have shifted its focus to Rajasthan.
Central Congress leaders, tasked with addressing the concerns raised by former deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot and his supporters last year, held a meeting with state party leaders in Jaipur on Sunday, and said they have reached a consensus on the issue of state cabinet expansion but the final decision will be taken by the party high command in Delhi.
The meeting, called by the state party chief Govind Singh Dotasra, was attended by 26 legislators, 12 ministers and 28 party office-bearers, according to a state Congress leader who asked not to be named. Among them was Pilot and nine legislators who back him, the person added.
Congress general secretary Ajay Maken, who is in charge of Rajasthan for the party, presented a unified front after Sunday’s meeting. “I can say that there is no disagreement or contradiction among the party leaders and they all have left the final decision about the cabinet expansion to the party high command,” he told reporters, adding that the decision of the Delhi leadership will be accepted by all.
He did not give a timeline for the cabinet expansion, one of the key demands of the Pilot camp, but party functionaries aware of the mattersaid the announcement may be made next month.
Maken and All India Congress Committee general secretary (organisation) KC Venugopal arrived in Jaipur from Delhi on Saturday, and held discussions with chief minister Ashok Gehlot at his residence in the state capital the same day.
The central leaders on Saturday spoke to the CM about the issues raised by the Pilot camp: cabinet expansion, political appointments in state boards and corporations, and implementation of promises made before the 2018 assembly elections in Rajasthan, said a person familiar with the development.
This was the first time since the Pilot camp’s rebellion that the central Congress leaders held such discussions with Gehlot, he added.
In July last year, Pilot and 18 MLAs revolted against the chief minister, leading to a 30-day-long turmoil that ended with a compromise formula after the party high command in Delhi was roped in. Pilot was removed as the deputy to the CM, but the party formed a three-member panel comprising Maken, Venugopal and late Congress leader Ahmed Patel to resolve the issues raised by them.
Nearly a year on, the Congress’s swift response in mitigating a similar crisis in Punjab — of infighting between the factions led by chief minister Amarinder Singh and newly appointed state unit chief Navjot Singh Sidhu — reinvigorated the Pilot camp.
Since June, Pilot and his supporters have publically demanded that their issues be addressed by the party.
In an interview to HT in June, Pilot said: “It has now been 10 months. I was given to understand that there would be swift action by the committee, but now half of the term is done, and those issues haven’t been resolved. It is unfortunate that so many of the party workers who worked and gave their all for getting us the mandate are not being heard.”
Last week, the 43-year-old leader said he was in touch with senior Congress leaders and hoped that the required steps will be taken soon. “We are in touch with the high command and I believe that the AICC is going to take necessary steps required to be taken,” he said on Wednesday.
Chaksu MLA Ved Prakash Solanki, a Pilot supporter who attended Sunday’s meeting, indicated that the outcome could be positive. “We met Maken and Venugopal, who assured us that the party leadership is looking into the issues, and soon expansion and appointments will be made on merits,” he said.
At present, there are 21 members (including the chief minister) in the state cabinet, and nine slots are vacant. Rajasthan can have a maximum of 30 ministers.
Maken is set to return to Jaipur later this month and hold individual discussions with Congress MLAs. “I am returning on July 28-29 and will hold a one-to-one dialogue with Congress MLAs over district and block (appointments) as AICC wants to know the feedback of MLAs before taking any decisions. We will also ask them for good names for appointments on boards and corporations,” he said.
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, however, said a cabinet expansion will not be the solution to Congress’s problems in Rajasthan. The Gehlot government is “going to fall and the cabinet expansion, appointments and organisational posts cannot save them... The posts are limited and expectations of their workers and leaders are high”, said BJP legislator and state spokesperson Ram Lal Sharma.
The Congress’s pivot to Rajasthan comes after the party averted a political crisis in Punjab, which goes to the polls early next year. Another panel formed by the party quelled Sidhu’s dissent against CM Amarinder Singh, and coronated the cricketer-turned-politician as the Congress Punjab unit chief last week.