Rahul Gandhi after becoming the Congress president had to face electoral defeats in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. In Gujarat, the Congress party failed to wrest the state away from the BJP, but its tally improved. The Gandhi scion now has set his eyes on the next set of scheduled elections. Congress may have a real shot at winning elections in some of these stats, for instance MP may have an anti-incumbency factor going against the BJP. However, the state of Rajasthan carries a lot of weight for the Congress.
There have been growing murmurs in the political circles that Rajasthan offers the best chance for the Congress to come back to power. The grand old party may harbor hopes, but all is not well in the Congress camp in Rajasthan. Factionalism is prevalent, and all the trouble may be attributed to a man named Ashok Gehlot.
Gujarat elections for the Congress had two end results. Firstly, there was an improvement in its performance which was famously dubbed as a moral victory. And secondly, even if Gujarat election outcome was credited to Rahul Gandhi, an elated Ashok Gehlot (who was the campaign in charge) claimed the moral rights of the moral victory.
Ashok Gehlot was the Chief Minister of Rajasthan and was trounced by Vasundhara Raje in 2013. The Congress party had fallen to one of its worst electoral defeats and conveniently Gehlot was made the scapegoat. Fast forward to 2017, Sachin Pilot was made the President of the Congress Pradesh committee for Rajasthan. The party has invested in him for the last four years and he is expected to be the face of the assembly polls. However, Ashok Gehlot, fresh with an assumed good performance in Gujarat may demand for his pound of flesh. And if he plans to come back to his home state, we can expect a lot of fireworks. Indications so far are clear that Gehlot is ambitious enough to yet again try for the top job in Rajasthan and will certainly oppose Sachin Pilot in every possible way.
There could be a civil war in Congress before the Rajasthan elections. Ashok Gehlot belongs to the old guard of the party and is an adherent of the Sonia school of loyalty. His experience in Rajasthan polity is tremendous and he knows every nook and corner of the state. He had single handedly reduced Congress to a one-man party with his autocratic style of functioning. This big advantage of experience which Gehlot possesses is a big disadvantage for the Congress. Any attempts made by the party to project a young face as the CM may have its own repercussions such as a sulking Gehlot. Sachin Pilot on the other hand forms a part of the emerging young crop in the Congress party. He is suave, articulate, is media friendly and has a pleasant personality as compared to Gehlot. He is an important component of the Rahul Gandhi coterie which is trying to spread its wings post anointment of RaGa as the president of the Congress party. So, the projection of Sachin Pilot as a CM by the RaGa camp is certain which will be at cross roads with Gehlot’s ambitions to spring a comeback.
The curtain raiser to the grand fight was seen at press conferences conducted by Gehlot post by poll defeats in the past. Congress party had lost Dholpur and Gehlot wasn’t even subtle in his criticism. He blamed the state party leadership and it’s over confidence for the loss in the by polls. This was not the first time he had lashed out at Sachin Pilot. And the notice worthy part is that he had arranged the press conference at Ajmer which is the home constituency of Pilot.
As a matter of fact, Ashok Gehlot has still not accepted Pilot as the state leader. This is especially possible since his own man was replaced by Pilot for the position of the state Congress head.
The slugfest between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot is expected to spill over to Ajmer and Alwar. Both these cities are facing LS by polls at the end of this month. Both the seats became vacant owing to deaths of sitting parliamentarians who belonged to the BJP. The saffron party will try their level best to capture these seats and set the momentum. Ajmer is a matter of prestige for Sachin Pilot who will make all the efforts to win it. On the other hand, an angry Ashok Gehlot may try to upset the applecart. These parliamentary by polls will set the stage for the assembly polls scheduled in December and the winners will have an edge.
The ticket distribution during assembly elections and the choice of the CM face all together will decide the outcome of this internal battle. If Gehlot becomes the CM face, it may cause gloom in the Pilot camp which may halfheartedly participate in the assembly polls. Nevertheless, if Sachin Pilot is made the poster boy, it may result in a Gujarat like situation where Vaghela left the party and inflicted considerable damage. Gehlot may do the same here and he is fully capable of going the Vaghela way.
In this fight between the heavyweights, battle lines are sure to be drawn which eventually will benefit the BJP. Although nominations of candidates for the by polls were filed together, the cracks in between the Rajasthan Congress were visible. Ashok Gehlot may be eyeing a Captain Amarinder Singh like come back in Punjab. But whether he will succeed like Captain or get fade into oblivion like Digvijay Singh will be clearer with the advent of time. But for now, Ashok Gehlot remains the biggest roadblock in Rahul Gandhi’s Rajasthan Dreams.