A desert storm is slowly building up. It’s been almost a year since the rebellion by Congress’s Sachin Pilot and his 19 loyal MLAs who questioned Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot’s “arbitrary style of working". Pilot returned to Jaipur, making it clear that he had no intention of joining the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Congress bought peace by promising a cabinet reshuffle to accommodate a few of his loyalists. That reshuffle is yet to take place. Nor has a committee led by Ajay Maken and KC Venugopal finalised its report on the matter and offered a solution.
Pilot was credited by many with the party’s revival in Rajasthan after its loss to the BJP in the 2011 assembly polls. He was seen as a contender for the chief minister’s post but was persuaded to take the job of Ashok Gehlot’s deputy by the party’s top leadership after a victory in the 2018 assembly elections. This did nothing to defuse simmering tensions.
The discord escalated when Pilot was summoned for questioning by the state police, purportedly on the CM’s directions, over alleged deal-making with the BJP to bring down the government. The young Congress leader rebelled, along with his loyalists, pushing the Ashok Gehlot government toward the edge of a precipice. The crisis was averted after several weeks when Pilot met Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. Yet, discontent has remained.
The first sign that all’s not well was the resignation of Congress MLA and Pilot’s close aide Hemaram Choudhary this week. He said, “All I wanted was to keep my dignity intact and work with my head held high. This was no longer possible." Ved Prakash Solanki, another legislator in the Pilot camp, told News18.com that there are many who are unhappy and won’t speak out loudly. “How long do we have to wait? The CM is making appointments for his people while we are left out.”
Sources say some of these disgruntled MLAs close to Sachin Pilot had met Ashok Gehlot a month ago, urging him to appoint them or give them some work. “He said he would do so within a few days but we are still waiting. It’s clear he doesn’t want to. Some of us are not saying this openly but we cannot continue for long. If our resignation will strengthen the party we are ready to do so," said Solanki.
Party general secretary Ajay Maken has been in touch with the discontented legislators but not much has come out of it. Given the state of the Congress, which is still struggling to do well electorally and sort out its leadership issues, its regional satraps like Captain Amarinder Singh Punjab and Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan are now extremely powerful and also fiercely independent. These leaders run their politics on their own terms and many suggestions coming from the central leadership are rarely paid heed to, say observers. Gehlot’s supporters say that the party came to power largely because of the might of the CM on the ground. And they are dismissive of the efforts of Sachin Pilot as Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief and say he still has to wait for his time. Said a senior leader close to Gehlot, “We don’t deny the work done by Pilot. But he is young and he doesn’t have the wherewithal that Gehlot has. He should wait his turn.”
It’s this wait that is becoming longer and the patience of many MLAs close to Pilot is running out. And the top leadership is watching, seemingly helplessly. With their power diminished by poll losses, and no fire in the belly left, the likes of Gehlot and Captain don’t find it necessary to compromise or reach out to the rebels and unhappy colleagues. As for those close to Pilot, Hemaram’s resignation may be followed by a few more. The purpose is simple. With reduced numbers and resignations, they hope that finally their voice will be heard, even in the wail of the storm.