NEW DELHI, May 29: Amidst Sachin Pilot’s continued defiance of the party leadership, the Congress high command on Monday began the process of holding meetings with the party leaders in Rajasthan to prepare for the state Assembly elections later this year.
Earlier in the morning, the party leadership also had a round of meeting with the leaders in Madhya Pradesh, which will also be going to the polls along with Rajasthan, after which the party former president Rahul Gandhi claimed that the Congress would win the majority with at least 150 seats in the state and was subsequently ridiculed by the ruling BJP as his “day-dreaming.”
The Congress bit the Rajasthan bullet summoning Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot to Delhi for discussions with Rahul Gandhi and party chief Mallikarjun Kharge. The party, which is up against the state’s revolving door trend changing the ruling party every five years, is in desperate need to repair its fractured image caused Ashok Gehlot – Sachin Pilot rift and mutual accusations in public.
Three years ago, the media had reported a blow-by-blow account of Pilot’s aborted rebellion and the subsequent drama when Gehlot was asked to stand for election to the party’s national chief’s post. Over 70 MLAs had sided with Gehlot and defied then party chief Sonia Gandhi, after a buzz that Pilot would succeed him as the chief minister of Rajasthan.
Gehlot on Monday met Kharge in Delhi in the presence of Rahul Gandhi. The AICC general secretary KC Venugopal and party leader from Rajasthan Jitendra Singh were also present at the meeting. Kharge is also scheduled to meet Sachin Pilot later. About half an hour after the meeting between Kharge, Gandhi and Gehlot, AICC in-charge for Rajasthan Sukhjinder Randhawa joined them for discussions.
Sources indicated that Monday’s meeting was an effort to find a middle ground between the party’s two most important leaders in the state. Pilot has not been called for this meeting — sources said the party leadership wanted to bring Gehlot on board first. A separate meeting is likely to be held with Pilot.
The meet is also inspired by the peace-brokering between Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar in Karnataka. Projection of a united image by the two key leaders who have been at loggerheads for years, had brought bumper returns for the Congress in the recently concluded assembly election. Settling the knotty question of Chief Ministership between the two aggressive contenders has further boosted the party’s confidence.
In Rajasthan, Pilot has made a series of demands, including that his party’s government take action in the alleged paper leak scam that took place during the BJP rule in the state. He has put the Congress on notice, declaring that if there is no action by the end of this month, he would hold agitation across the state.
Pointing out that Gehlot, while in the opposition, levelled allegations against the Vasundhara Raje government, he had said, “Four and a half years have been completed but the promises made have not been fulfilled and action has not been taken on the allegations.” “I went on a fast in Jaipur, but when nothing happened from that, I felt that now I will have to go among the public and I took out the Jan Sangharsh Yatra,” Pilot had added.
If the threat is carried out, it will be a body blow to the Congress, with the state just months away from election. “They are coming. We will discuss and decide whatever is in the interest of the party,” Kharge had said ahead of the meeting.
Gehlot had consistently refused any special considerations to accommodate Pilot in the party’s scheme of things in Rajasthan. Speaking to reporters earlier, Gehlot said there was no such tradition in the party to offer posts to any leader in order to pacify him. “As far as I know, there is no such tradition in the Congress where any leader demands something and the party high command offers to give that position. We have not heard of such a formula ever,” he said when asked about reports of a formula being worked out to rope in Pilot.
Rubbishing such reports, he said it was only the creation of the media and some leaders may be getting such stories planted. “Never has such a thing happened in the Congress so far and neither will it happen in the future. The Congress party and the high command are very strong and no leader or worker has the courage to demand any position. It does not happen like that,” the Chief Minister had asserted further complicating the issue for the party leadership.
Meanwhile, the former finance minister P Chidambaram on Monday welcomed the West Bengal chief minister’s offer to cooperate with the Congress if the regional parties in the states where they were strong were allowed free hand to finalise one-to-one contest against the BJP in the coming Lok Sabha elections.
The veteran Congress leader said he welcomed the statement and was confident that an understanding could be arrived at through talks. “I welcome Ms Mamata Banerjee’s statement. She must take it forward in talks with the Congress party. I am confident it is possible to reach an understanding,” Chidambaram said.
Chidambaram indicating that he was not averse to the idea, said that “(the) strongest non-BJP party in a state must be the lead party in an alliance in the election there.” “My personal view is that the strongest non-BJP party in a State must be the lead party in an alliance in the election in that State. The Congress is the strongest non-BJP party in many states. It is natural that strong state-specific parties will expect reciprocal support,” he said.
Mr Chidambaram also pointed out, “Unity among the non-BJP parties is a work in progress.” He said he believed the Opposition parties “are coming closer to each other, but there is some distance to go.” Chidambaram said he expected the process to “gain speed in the next few months.” Asked what could be the impact of the Congress’ massive victory over the BJP in the recently-concluded Karnataka elections, the veteran leader said though it is “too early” to predict the outcome of the 2024 elections, he believed that it would have a “positive impact.”