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Infighting in Rajasthan Congress intensify as leaders project CM face

Differences surfacing between former chief minister Ashok Gehlot and Congress state unit chief Sachin Pilot

india Updated: Jul 31, 2018 22:13 IST
Sachin Saini
Sachin Saini
Hindustan Times, Jaipur
Rajasthan Congress,Ashok Gehlot,Congress
Ashok Gehlot, Sachin Pilot and Mukul Wasnik in Bikaner on 15 May 2013.(HT File Photo)

The Rajasthan Congress’ attempt to put up a united fight against the Vasundhara Raje-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government is faltering, with perceived differences surfacing between former chief minister Ashok Gehlot and state unit chief Sachin Pilot. The party high command has issued a gag order on its Rajasthan leaders speaking in favour of either of them.

The development comes days after the Congress leadership in Delhi decided to fight the upcoming polls under the joint leadership of all senior state leaders such as Gehlot, Pilot, former Union ministers CP Joshi and Bhanwar Jitendra Singh, without projecting anyone as its chief ministerial candidate .

This has not gone down well with the party cadre in Rajasthan, which has started becoming more vocal about their choice of leader in the state. It was apparent in the one-day workshop on election management organised in Jaipur last week in which both Gehlot and Pilot participated.

At the workshop, Gehlot said that whenever someone is appointed state party chief , a few people try to convince him to dream of becoming CM. “I had told Sachin Pilot to be aware of such people. I did not get trapped and became the CM,” Gehlot said.

Pilot responded by saying he had taken the benefit of “of your (Gehlot’s) experience” and distanced himself from such people after becoming state unit chief.

On Tuesday, Gehlot added another dimension to his earlier statement, saying no one had the right to project himself as the chief ministerial candidate because it was against the Congress tradition. “Whosoever presents himself as CM face cannot become CM. The party high command knows about the demand of the people on the ground and they will take a decision at an appropriate time on peoples’ feedback and MLAs’ choice,” he said.

Gehlot was chief minister for two terms, between 1998 and 2003 and 2008 and 2013.

Realising the adverse impact it will have on the party’s poll prospects, the party high command quickly went into damage control mode, first by saying that Gehlot’s statement had been “misinterpreted” and then issuing the gag order.

“We have asked all party leaders not to speak on the party’s face for elections. We will fight the elections unitedly,” said Avinash Pande, Congress in-charge of Rajasthan. Pande had termed statements in favour of any leader as “irresponsible” and an attempt to weaken the party.

Pande issued the order as a chorus supporting Gehlot for the CM’s post was growing louder. Former union minister and known Gehlot loyalist Lal Chand Kataria described Gehlot as the people’s choice for CM, which was later supported by All India Congress Committee (AICC) members Sanjay Bapna and Pradesh Congress Committee member Prahlad Raghu. Many district level leaders have also spoken in favour of Gehlot in the past one week.

This war of words over the leadership issue has left the party worried with senior leaders telling the party high command that such a fight in the open will help the BJP as it was sending the message that Congress leaders are more concerned about power than people and issues.

Sensing an opportunity, BJP leaders are trying to make the alleged infighting in the Congress a poll issue. “Congress does not have a democratic system and is suffering from infights. We are a disciplined party which works for the welfare of the people,” said Prabhu Lal Saini, the Rajasthan agriculture minister.

Political analyst Narayan Bareth said, “Such developments are unfortunate and could result in a loss for the Congress. It would have been better had the party leadership in the beginning stated that such occurrences were expected as cadres sense the party coming to power.”

Quotes for Graphics

General Secretary and Ex-CM Ashok Gehlot said “There is no fight here (Rajasthan). Congress has its tradition.If the high command wants , in extraordinary situations ,then only the face (CM) is announced, or else the tradition is a decision looking to people’s sentiments and MLAs’ choice.

“...No one has the right to present himself as the CM face. This is against the tradition of the Congress. Whosoever presents himself as the CM face cannot become CM. Despite that, some people create such an atmosphere, which sends a wrong message in the media; this is a conspiracy of the BJP.”

Quotes for Graphics

General Secretary and Ex-CM Ashok Gehlot said “There is no fight here (Rajasthan). Congress has its tradition.If the high command wants , in extraordinary situations ,then only the face (CM) is announced, or else the tradition is a decision looking to people’s sentiments and MLAs’ choice.

“...No one has the right to present himself as the CM face. This is against the tradition of the Congress. Whosoever presents himself as the CM face cannot become CM. Despite that, some people create such an atmosphere, which sends a wrong message in the media; this is a conspiracy of the BJP.”

First Published: Jul 31, 2018 22:12 IST