NEW DELHI, June 27: Fresh trouble may be brewing in one of the two states the Congress is in power on its own. With his success in manoeuvring the recent Rajya Sabha elections in favour of the Congress, the Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot seems to be again fling high hurting the sentiments of his principal rival Sachin Pilot.
Seen to be behind the party’s revival in Rajasthan after five years of BJP rule, Pilot was a contender for the Chief Minister’s post after the party’s victory in the 2018 assembly polls. But he was persuaded by Rahul Gandhi to take the job of Ashok Gehlot’s deputy.
His friction with Gehlot started since and matters came to a head in 2020 when Pilot rebelled, camping out in Delhi with 18 supporters who insisted on a bigger role for him in the government. The bitter stand-off was resolved after more than month, after meetings with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
Recently again Pilot had reportedly re-opened the issue with the party high command of change of guards in Rajasthan ahead of the Assembly elections next year, but the party leadership was not responsive. But Gehlot with his success I managing extra votes to get all the three Congress through in the Rajya Sabha elections apparently has gained an upper hand. Rajasthan was the only state where the BJP failed to out-manoeuvre the opposition conceding defeat to Gehlot’s political moves.
Though Pilot has again tried to brush aside the taunting by Gehlot for his 2020 rebellion, a fresh spark of trouble and a possible rebellion before next year’s Assembly elections cannot be ruled out unless the party high command managed to patch up the differences between the two leaders. For the time being, after Gehlot dug up his old row against Sachin Pilot, accusing him of colluding with Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat to try and oust his government, Pilot shot back on Monday, saying he had learnt “not to take statements by the CM otherwise.”
Seeking the top post since the Congress won in Rajasthan in 2018, the Pilot camp had as recently as April suggested, after a fresh round of meetings with the high command, that “a change of guard is no more not a possibility.” However, Gehlot has been unyielding and after success in the RS Polls, is not expected to start making concessions.
The latest volley of words was started by Gehlot when talking about a court notice to Shekhawat in a case of horse-trading allegations, he said on Saturday, “You yourself conspired to topple the government. Now that you are taking the name of Sachin Pilot ji, that he erred, which proves it further, you yourself put the stamp on the fact that you were hand-in-glove with him.”
Responding after two days, Pilot said: “Earlier too, the CM has said things about me, called me nakara, nikamma (useless, worthless)… But see, Ashok Gehlotji anubhavi hain, buzurg hain, aur pita tulya hain, woh kabhi-kabhi kuch bol dete hain toh main usko otherwise nahin leta (Ashok Gehlotji is experienced, he is an elder and like a father figure. When he says something, I do not take it otherwise).” “Right now my focus is to bring back our government in the state,” Pilot said.
With the CM’s latest comment coming just four days after Congress leader Rahul Gandhi referred to Pilot jokingly as an example of party leaders’ patience in Gehlot’s presence. Pilot added: “Recently, Rahul Gandhiji praised my patience from his heart. And now when a leader like Rahul Gandhi appreciates my patience, toh kisi ko bhi unke statement se anavshyak roop se pareshan nahin hona chahiye aur isko right spirit mein lena chahiye (then no one should unnecessarily worry themselves over his statement and should take it in the right spirit). And I believe that when Rahul Gandhi has appreciated my patience so much, I don’t think there is anything else left to be said.”
The sequence of events this time also followed a set pattern, with Gehlot making provocative statements to goad Pilot into a reaction. Pilot, who lost both the posts of deputy CM and state Congress chief after the failed 2019 rebellion, has refrained from bringing matters to a head.
On October 2 last year, as Pilot supporters called for a young face as CM, Gehlot referred to an angioplasty procedure he had had, and said: “For 15-20 years, nothing will happen to me. Now if you want to be sad, be sad, it’s not in my hands.”
Five days later, Pilot responded on the occasion of a book launch, after the host said he might not be around for long but would want to launch a book by Pilot. Pilot said, “Don’t worry, I’ll be here for 50 years.”
In March this year, Gehlot suggested Pilot had got a ministerial berth in the UPA II government through his help. Two weeks later, Pilot responded that he had sought a Lok Sabha ticket for Gehlot’s son Vaibhav in 2019, even though the party high command was not in favour of it. Apart from ensuring that the failed revolt of Pilot remains fresh in public memory, Gehlot’s messaging also appears directed at the party leadership.
Pilot’s supporters say that Gehlot’s comments come every time there is an “indication of a leadership change in Rajasthan”. A loyalist said the BJP too is playing along. “It suits Shekhawat to have Gehlot continue as CM because there is anti-incumbency. It suits Vasundhara Raje to have Gehlot continue as CM, it suits the BJP to have Gehlot continue as CM, and it suits Gehlot to have Gehlot continue as CM. Any change would make things difficult for the BJP since they will have to work harder, while right now they feel they have a very strong upper hand.”