Since the 2018 Assembly elections, the Rajasthan Congress has been sitting on a ticking time bomb. Every politically aware person was well-informed that the grand old party would face a crisis in the state sooner than later. The Gandhi family ignored the issue.
Since 2017, the party, led by Rahul Gandhi, has been making strange choices in state politics across India. There are numerous examples of states where members of the Congress won elections and joined other parties, especially the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Congress has been forced into a situation from which no one anticipates a recovery. Every time it tries to make decisions regarding a course correction, certain circumstances will invariably thwart the revival plan.
Seeds Of Battle
Every party needs one leader. But when there are two leaders forced to make peace with each other, Rajasthan happens.
The Congress fought the 2018 Rajasthan Assembly elections under Sachin Pilot’s leadership. Ashok Gehlot was notably absent from this battle. Pilot worked on the ground, valued the next generation, and created the organisation in his own way. To accomplish this, Pilot disregarded a number of former Congressmen and refused to give them election tickets. The seeds of conflict were already present. The pilot did not gauge the water. More than 11 of these disgruntled Congressmen contested elections on their own, defeating the candidates from both the Congress and the BJP. At its core, politics is a game of numbers. These Independent MLAs and the MLAs from parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party made the decision to back Gehlot, who has previously served as chief minister of Rajasthan.
The high command had little choice but to choose Gehlot to be the chief minister. Making Sachin Pilot the deputy chief minister, however, was a mistake. Since the very first day of this government, the Congress has been in a rebellious mood. The members or leaders of the Congress who had been denied a ticket by Sachin Pilot came together to form the government of Ashok Gehlot.
Moving Pilot to Delhi by giving him organisational responsibilities was one of the options the Congress had. However, Rahul Gandhi has always been wary of charismatic leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia and Pilot. He was consequently compelled to remain in Rajasthan, where the conflict persisted.
Trust And Loyalty
Every politician has some loyalists, and that is the very foundation of how political parties operate in India. However, the Congress is having trouble with this issue of loyalty and trust. Ashok Gehlot, the chief minister of Rajasthan, has ties to the Congress’ Gandhi family, and Sonia Gandhi is said to have persuaded Gehlot to run for the party’s presidency. People must be wondering if Gandhi and Gehlot discussed the future of the Rajasthan Congress during this significant decision-making process.
“We have made a commitment in Udaipur, I expect that will be maintained,” said Rahul Gandhi. The statement should make people wonder if he and Sonia Gandhi were on the same page. This means that Gehlot won’t be able to continue serving as the chief minister of Rajasthan if he is elected as the party president. But the MLAs who support Gehlot want him to continue serving as the state’s chief minister.
Everyone is aware that Gehlot will never agree to appoint Sachin Pilot as the chief minister of Rajasthan. However, according to reports, the high command decided that Pilot should become the chief minister, forcing over 90 MLAs who supported Gehlot to resign in an effort to exert pressure on the party to reverse this decision.
It is clear that the decision of the Congress high command was not unanimous. This also raises the question of the genuineness of the presidential poll. Will the Gandhi family ever bother to listen or discuss important issues with Gehlot if he becomes the president? The Rajasthan crisis clearly showed that either the Congress high command felt it unnecessary to discuss Gehlot’s choice of the next Rajasthan CM or overrode his choice. Gehlot has made it clear that his loyalist MLAs are not paying attention to him anymore. Similar to how they are not paying attention to the high command.
This is the situation the Congress is experiencing and it does sound too complicated. No one is going to listen to anyone because loyalty has turned into sycophancy.
Lust For Power
The Congress’ remaining leaders have become power-hungry because of the leadership crisis. Gehlot is well aware that if he is elected Congress president, the Gandhi family will use him as a puppet. Instead, he will have more authority and control over how the state is run as chief minister of Rajasthan. Similarly, Sachin Pilot knows that if he does not become the chief minister then he will have no ground to sit on the CM’s chair if the Congress wins the upcoming Assembly election in Rajasthan. The MLAs loyal to Gehlot believe that if Sachin Pilot becomes the CM, then they will have no space in the cabinet or in the corridors of power. The MLAs close to Pilot believe that if Ashok Gehlot remains the chief minister then their political future is under threat.
Rahul Gandhi can travel countless miles on foot in an effort to unite India, but the aspirations of the Congress members are dashed in every state. The party’s workers ponder daily whether their leader will stay in the party or switch to another. The only things left are lust for power and desperation.
The author is an independent journalist, columnist and former policy research fellow at the Delhi Assembly Research Centre. He tweets @sayantan_gh. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.