True to what we anticipated in the previous newsletter, the events in Jaipur have turned out to be a cracker of a political drama that has occupied more news space than both the limited disengagement at the LAC in Ladakh and the grim marker of India’s 1 million Covid-19 cases last week.
However, the political game that started in Jaipur the previous weekend is looking likely to be spread out for longer than the developments that took place in Bhopal this March.
In Madhya Pradesh, the incumbent Congress government was out of power within a fortnight of Jyotiraditya Scindia’s meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In Rajasthan, the incumbent Chief Minister continues to sit tight, while berating the young rebel Sachin Pilot for his alleged impatience.
Ashok Gehlot has made swift moves to arrest attrition in the ranks, and to take the battle to the rival camp. He summoned Congress Legislature Party meetings on two successive days, and had Pilot sacked from the Cabinet and as chief of the state party unit; the Congress Chief Whip petitioned Speaker C P Joshi seeking disqualification of Pilot and his 18 supporters; Joshi, in turn, issued notices to MLAs seeking their disqualification.
In addition, Gehlot accused Pilot of conspiring with the BJP, and also put the BJP on the defensive over the leaked audio tapes of purported conversations on horse-trading, which dragged Union Minister Gajendra Shekhawat into the entire episode with an FIR.
For Gehlot, offence has been defence. Pilot, on the other hand, has made only two moves since taking his MLAs out of the state last weekend – asserting that he would not join the BJP, and moving the High Court against the disqualification process. He has kept his cards close to his chest, and the assertion that he would not join the BJP – even as Gehlot has continued to put a saffron tint on him – has been seen as an attempt to frustrate the disqualification petition.
The proceedings before the Rajasthan High Court on Monday will guide his next course of action. In the event of an adverse ruling, Pilot can be expected to move the Supreme Court to further delay action by the Speaker, who has been asked by the High Court to hold his hand until Tuesday evening.
But ultimately, it will be a question of arithmetic. If proceedings in court continue for some time, Pilot will have an opportunity to build up his numbers; a quick disposal of the matter will give Gehlot the chance to use the hanging sword of disqualification to orchestrate attrition in Pilot’s flock of 18 MLAs.
In a way, this episode has also exposed the faultlines in the Rajasthan BJP. In Madhya Pradesh, (then) former CM Shivraj Chouhan and senior party leader Narendra Singh Tomar were active; in Rajasthan, former CM Vasundhara Raje has stayed away from the drama. While the hosting of Pilot’s MLAs in a BJP-ruled state and the fielding of senior lawyers like Mukul Rohatgi and Harish Salve for Pilot has suggested that the central BJP is taking an interest in the matter, Vasundhara’s aloofness has exposed the lack of communication within the party on the political opportunity offered by the massive churn in the Congress.
After much persuasion, she did issue some token remarks – but the general lack of enthusiasm in the state BJP has made it more difficult for the rebels to make a bold move like resigning and forcing a floor test. The BJP and the Governor too, have not shown an inclination for a floor test.
Meanwhile, the meeting of the Corps Commanders that followed the limited disengagement on the LAC spotlighted the complex issues that surround the next phase of disengagement at Pangong Tso and other areas. Diplomatic talks are likely this week before the next step of disengagement is worked out.
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Covid-19 has continued its upward trajectory, adding more new cases each week over the previous week. The one shift that happened last week is that the majority of daily cases are no longer from the previous four hotspot states – Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, and Gujarat – and it is the rest of India that is now dictating the national pandemic curve (see graph).
This means more states need to pull up their socks and get to work to prevent the situation from escalating like it did in Maharashtra and Delhi. All of us should, in the meantime, stick to behavioural practices that help to keep us, and the entire community, safe.
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