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Explained: How Congress has balanced Pilot-Gehlot loyalists in Rajasthan state executive

Congress has announced a new executive of its state unit in Rajasthan. Why is this significant? Who are the Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot loyalists in the list? What next for the Congress in Rajasthan?

Written by Hamza Khan , Edited by Explained Desk | Jaipur | Updated: January 7, 2021 6:18:38 pm
Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot in Jaipur last month. (Express Photo: Rohit Jain Paras)

Almost six months after a rebellion by the then Rajasthan deputy chief minister, Sachin Pilot, the Congress announced a new executive of its state unit late Wednesday. A total of seven vice-presidents, 8 general secretaries and 24 general secretaries were announced by party general secretary K C Venugopal.

Why is the list significant?

In July last year, the Congress party had removed Pilot as minister and party state president, apart from also removing his loyalists Vishvendra Singh and Ramesh Meena as ministers. Avinash Pande, who was the party’s state in-charge then, had also announced the dissolution of the state executive unit, all other departments and cells of the Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee (RPCC), followed by the party’s district and block committees.

Even though the party high command brokered peace between Gehlot and Pilot in August, it had the difficult task of striking a balance between the two camps. This began with first choosing the state executive. However, the task proved to be a headache for the party, and it missed its own deadline. Last year, AICC general secretary and the new Rajasthan in-charge Ajay Maken had said that a new state unit of Congress in Rajasthan will be in place by year-end – the list is six days late.

The rebellion and the prevailing uncertainty since then is also said to have cost the Congress in the Panchayati Raj polls last year. For the first time in a decade and a half, the ruling party in Rajasthan has fewer Zila Pramukh posts than the Opposition party in the state.

Who are the Pilot and Gehlot loyalists in the list?

The list of 39 has three MLAs who had rebelled from the party and joined Pilot at a hotel in the National Capital Region (NCR) in July-August last year, apart from 15 other MLAs.

The three MLAs are Ved Prakash Solanki from Chaksu (Jaipur), Gajraj Khatana from Bandikui (Dausa) and Rakesh Pareek from Masuda (Ajmer) – all were announced as party general secretaries. Among the VPs, Rajendra Chaudhary is considered close to Pilot; Mahendra Singh Khedi, also considered a Pilot loyalist, was announced as one of the party secretaries.

Then there are others who were seen as close to Pilot but did not join him in his rebellion; at the same time, it could also be a case of a trust deficit between them and Gehlot.

This includes Congress MLA from Bagidora in Banswara, Mahendra Jeet Singh Malviya, who was announced as one of the VPs. Malviya’s name had cropped up in the FIR lodged with the Special Operations Group (SOG) of Rajasthan Police last year, where the persons in the purported audio clips were heard saying that Malviya was with Pilot but has changed sides.

Similarly, Congress MLA from Niwai (Tonk), Prashant Bairwa, considered Pilot loyalist until the rebellion, has been appointed general secretary.

Among others, Gehlot loyalists include Khajuwala (Bikaner) MLA Govind Ram Meghwal, Mandal (Bhilwara) MLA Ramlal Jat, and Khetri (Jhunjhunu) MLA Dr Jitendra Singh, all of whom have been named vice-presidents. Fatehpur (Sikar) MLA Hakam Ali Khan, a loyalist of Congress state president Govind Singh Dotasra, has been made general secretary.

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What does the list mean for the Pilot camp?

While the Pilot camp leaders have been well-adjusted in the state executive by the party, the camp may now expect a good share in political appointments as well as in a cabinet reshuffle – whenever that happens.

However, a good number of Pilot camp leaders in state executive may also mean fewer posts for them in political appointments, since the list sends out a message of ‘one person, one post’: none of the persons announced in the list is a minister in the present government. In fact, some party leaders are said to have requested the party leadership to not include their name in the state executive, thus keeping them in the running for political appointments or cabinet reshuffle. One such person is Mahendra Jeet Singh Malviya, who is learnt to have been nursing ambitions to be made a minister under Gehlot, but has now been made state VP.

If the party sidelines Pilot camp leaders, then this may set up ground for more friction. Simultaneously, the Gehlot versus Pilot is still dragging on in the High Court and, more recently, a cold body language was on exhibit between the two during a protest called for farmers.

What next for Congress in Rajasthan?

The state executive paves the way for setting up district units, political appointments in the form of chairpersons for boards and corporations, as well as a cabinet reshuffle where some more Pilot loyalists are expected to be adjusted. However, the deadline for political appointments announced by Maken – January 31 – will also be missed as Urban Local Body (ULB) polls have been announced to 90 ULBs in 20 districts and hence a Model Code of Conduct is in place.

During the rebellion, Pilot loyalist Vishvendra Singh was removed as Tourism Minister while Ramesh Meena was removed as a minister for Food and Civil Supplies. The party high command will now have to appoint Pilot loyalists without angering Gehlot camp leaders and MLAs, who were sequestered in one hotel or another for over a month during Pilot’s rebellion. To ensure a lasting peace, the party leadership will now need to be as measured as it has been in announcing the state executive.

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