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Poaching Panic in Rajasthan a Prequel to Do-Or-Die Battle Between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot?

File photo of Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his deputy Sachin Pilot. (PTI)

File photo of Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his deputy Sachin Pilot. (PTI)

If the Congress wins both Rajya Sabha seats in the state, the Gehlot camp will claim it thwarted BJP’s ‘poaching’ attempts, while the Pilot camp will claim there was no need to move MLAs to a resort.

Disagreements and fights usually reveal the true picture hiding behind the façade of order and harmony. And this is exactly what is happening in Rajasthan right now.

Elections are due for two Rajya Sabha seats from the state, and given the comfortable majority the Congress enjoys there, it should be a cakewalk for the ruling party. But all doesn’t seem to be well going by what the Congress leadership in the state says.

Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot accused the BJP of attempting to topple his government, following which he whisked away Congress MLAs to a plush five-star hotel in Jaipur. He also roped in central leaders like KC Venugopal and Randeep Surjewala to make it a national issue, accusing the BJP of being more concerned with toppling governments and not with the havoc wreaked by the Covid-19 pandemic.

While this confrontation builds up, there is another just lurking around the corner between the CM Gehlot and deputy CM Sachin Pilot. While the rivalry between the two isn’t new, it’s now a do-or-die battle for both it seems, and as always the central leadership doesn’t want to get dragged in.

Several recent developments point to the brewing fight. First, Ramesh Meena, an MLA believed to be close to Sachin Pilot, distanced himself from the resort politics of his party. Then, MLA Bharat Singh Kundanpur, seen as a Gehlot critic, wrote a letter to state in-charge Avinash Pandey, questioning the need to move MLAs to a resort.

“It’s sure that we will win both the seats. But the effort being spent on these elections could be used for the Lok Sabha instead. But nothing will change and soon all will be forgotten. Most of the MLAs don’t even know the two candidates for the Rajya Sabha,” Kundanpur reportedly wrote.

The Congress has picked Rahul Gandhi’s close aide and organisation in-charge KC Venugopal and Neeraj Dangi as candidates for the Rajya Sabha election.

The questions being raised on the need for resort politics now indicate that the going isn’t as tough for the Congress as it is being made out to be.

To make matters worse, BJP state president Satish Poonia has alleged that the ‘poaching bogey’ was raised to settle scores between Gehlot and Pilot. He accused the CM and deputy CM of inventing a crisis to win brownie points with the central leadership.

But letters of resentment as the one written by Kundanpur doesn’t make the Congress look good in Rajasthan. They also underscore the basic malaise within the Congress in state after state where infighting has often cost them dear electorally.

The main reason why Gehlot and not Pilot was made CM in 2018 was that the party felt the former could ensure good performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. But the Congress faced disappointment and drubbing with zero seats in the states. This led to both camps trading blame.

This time, if the Congress manages to win both Rajya Sabha seats, both sides will claim victory. Gehlot and his supporters will claim that they saved the government and won the battle against the BJP.

Pilot, whose job as PCC chief is to ensure no defection, and his camp will also claim that the resort politics was a needless controversy and there was no need for panic.

Chances are that the unease between the two isn’t going to end soon. And as long as it continues, it will give the BJP a reason to smile.