Ashok Gehlot emerges stronger as Congress bridges Rajasthan rift
But the Rajasthan battle was essentially a political and personal battle between chief minister Ashok Gehlot and the former deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot. And it is clear that Gehlot has won more than he has lost.Updated: Aug 11, 2020 05:28 IST
The resolution of the Rajasthan battle within the Congress on Monday brings to an end the possibility of a split in the party and cements its position in the state, boosts the morale of the rank and file, provides a mechanism for conflict resolution, and re-establishes the centrality of the Gandhis in mediating party disputes — for now.
All of this will make Congress leaders, struggling with a series of successive setbacks, smile.
But the Rajasthan battle was essentially a political and personal battle between chief minister Ashok Gehlot and the former deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot. And it is clear that Gehlot has won more than he has lost.
First, examine Pilot’s actions, objectives and current political position.
The resolution on Monday was not the outcome Pilot was hoping for. He set out to dislodge Gehlot as CM and take over. He threw down the gauntlet of an open rebellion, defying the party’s instruction to attend legislative party meetings or returning to Rajasthan. His loyalists publicly, and he privately, spoke out consistently against Gehlot. He staked his deputy chief ministership and state presidency in the battle. And he appeared to entertain options of a political life outside the Congress, with some suggesting that he had plans for a regional party.
At the end of the episode, Pilot has not been able to oust Gehlot, who arguably is even more strongly entrenched in his position as CM. Pilot has also lost control of the party organisation in the state — a key source of power. He is no longer deputy CM. His hold over rebel legislators is proven to have been limited, as they were getting restless and wanted to return to the party when it became clear that the Gehlot government may survive. His expectation that there may be over 30 legislators who would back him did not bear out. And all he has, at the moment, to show for his rebellion, is an intra-Congress committee to examine his grievances. As Congress leaders know, setting up a committee is often a way to provide a face-saver but freeze the problem.
But political lives hinge on hope. And so Pilot will be hoping that the fact that there will be a mechanism to listen to his complaints will give him a new start in the party. He will hope that his linkages with Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi — they enabled his return — will prove to be a source of power in the future. And he will hope that with age on his side (he is only42) , the Congress’s commitment that his grievances will be address will translate into a secure political future in Rajasthan, if not now, then later.
What about Gehlot?
The entire crisis has established Gehlot as a powerful regional leader of the Congress, with formidable control over the party machine in Rajasthan. The fact that he took a clear position against Pilot and the rebel legislators — and kept his government intact — will rank as an achievement.
Gehlot consolidated his legislators, shuffling them between resorts to prevent any defection; he launched an offensive against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and linked Pilot to BJP’s designs; he got Pilot sacked from both the government and as state president and swiftly moved in to take control of the state organisation by appointing a loyalist; he displayed the confidence to call for an assembly session and took on the Governor on the issue; and he managed to keep the Congress central leadership on his side — despite the fact that there was sympathy for Pilot.
These strategies have paid off. Gehlot will survive as CM; he won’t have to worry about Pilot, at least for the time being, becoming a destabilising factor. The CM is understood to have wanted Pilot out of the party entirely — and Pilot’s return may not please him. But this, for now, will only be a minor irritant in a larger win.
And what about the Gandhis? The fact that the resolution happened on August 10 — exactly a year since Sonia Gandhi took charge as president of the party for what was considered an interim period but has stretched — may be just a coincidence. But while Sonia is in charge, it was Rahul Gandhi, who formally stepped away from organisational matters last year, and Priyanka, whose formal mandate does not extend to Rajasthan, who brought an end to the crisis. Their supporters will suggest that this, once again, shows the family’s centrality in reconciling conflicts — especially since Rahul Gandhi has been criticised for his inability to do so in a range of other states, where leaders once close to him have left the party.
As the Rajasthan drama ends, CM Gehlot will be smiling — while keeping a sharp eye on his rival, Pilot, to ensure doesn’t present future challenges. Pilot will be torn between a sense of having failed to achieve his mission, with a hope for a better future with the patronage of the Gandhi siblings. And the Gandhis and their supporters will be happy to see the Congress keep another government back in the party, with no defections, and foiling the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) hopes of bagging yet another state.