Sachin Pilot’s team is indicating its running out of patience. A minister in the Rajasthan government who is seen as close to Mr Pilot today said “The party came to power because of Sachin Pilot; considering the hard work done by him, and he should be given the responsibility.” The minister, Hemaram Choudhary, also said the promotion has to be imminent. “There should be no waiting, the party leadership should decide on it soon.”
Three weeks ago, Mr Pilot was uncharacteristically blunt as he said that the Congress must punish those who acted against its interests in the month of September, when MLAs loyal to Mr Gehlot defied orders to attend an official meeting to decide who should be the next Chief Minister. Instead, nearly 90 MLAs convened a conference of those loyal to Ashok Gehlot, the Chief Minister of Rajasthan, who Mr Pilot is desperate to replace.
Mr Pilot topped up that statement with another attack on Mr Gehlot, 26 years his senior, by stating that at a public appearance with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mr Gehlot had flaunted rich praise of the PM, which, according to Mr Pilot, signalled that Mr Gehlot would turn on the Congress in favour of the BJP.
In fact, what Mr Gehlot had said was that the PM’s standing internationally derives from the fact that he heads the country of Mahatma Gandhi. Mr Gehlot underscored this statement as thoroughly factual and not one of any particular affection for the PM.
Mr Pilot’s public outbursts manifest his increasing restlessness with a limbo that has engulfed the Congress regarding its plans for Rajasthan. On one hand, it needs to discipline Mr Gehlot for what is views as an unacceptable show of defiance; on the other, it is the Chief Minister who appears to have more MLAs with him than Mr Pilot in the numbers game.
When the MLAs loyal to him called their meeting in Rajasthan in violation of the Congress’ agenda, their mission was explicit – they said that if Mr Gehlot, who was being pressured by then Congress boss Sonia Gandhi to replace her as party President, Mr Pilot must not replace him as Rajasthan Chief Minister. Mr Gehlot eventually apologized for that transgression by his team, but not without a couple of days of ghosting by Mrs Gandhi. It was 81-year-old Mallikarjun Kharge who was then elected party leader; the Congress warned of penalizing, within days, those who had crossed the party in Rajasthan. Many weeks later, nothing.
Mr Choudhary, the Environment Minister who lobbied for Mr Pilot today, was among the small group of MLAs who, in 2020 rallied around Mr Pilot as he tried to force a change in control of the Rajasthan government. To do so, he corralled about 19 MLAs within a five-star resort near Delhi, daring the Congress to either make him Chief Minister or confront a split in the party. Mr Gehlot meanwhile set up base camp at a five-star near Jaipur with a rollcall far longer than that of his rival’s – he had about 104 MLAs backing him, plus a dozen independents. Mr Pilot’s revolt quickly decelerated and was followed by the humiliation of losing his role as Deputy Chief Minister and being removed as party president in Rajasthan, a post that gave him access and power over the party’s cadre.
Mr Gehlot’s own muscle-flexing just a few weeks ago has led to concerns within his team of whether he will be asked to make way for Mr Pilot. Rajasthan’s election is due in about 11 months and the apparently inexhaustible hostility between its two top leaders there is leaving the Congress in a shambles. After Gujarat, it is Rajasthan that will receive Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra in a matter of weeks. Mr Gandhi could perhaps devote a leg of his tour to a Congress Jodo Yatra as well.
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