HAVING settled the crisis in its Punjab unit, the Congress high command has turned its gaze towards Rajasthan, another party-ruled state where factional feud has been festering for more than a year now. AICC general secretary (organisation) K C Venugopal and in-charge of the state Ajay Maken will arrive in Jaipur Saturday night to hold meetings with Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, his rival Sachin Pilot and other leaders of the party.
The high command is set to nudge Gehlot to carry out a Cabinet expansion and make political appointments to boards and corporations. The Pilot camp’s major grouse against Gehlot is that he is stonewalling a reshuffle.
Sources in Delhi said that if everything goes according to plan, the Gehlot Cabinet will be expanded next week. At present, there are 21 members in the Council of Ministers, including Gehlot, which means he can take in nine more. The Pilot camp is seeking a lion’s share of these nine, which Gehlot has been resisting.
The six MLAs who defected from the BSP to the Congress are also in the race for the ministerial posts, as are the 10 Independents who support the Gehlot government.
The buzz in the party is that Pilot could be brought to Delhi and given a key post. Sources in the Pilot camp said he would take up any party assignment, in Delhi or otherwise, only after his supporters are accommodated suitably.
“Venugopal and Maken are coming to Rajasthan to discuss the Cabinet expansion along with constitution of the district Congress committees and pending political appointments,” a senior Congress MLA confirmed to The Sunday Express on condition of anonymity, adding that the exercise might be carried out in the next few days.
“Maken has visited the state multiple times recently but couldn’t make the CM agree to the Cabinet expansion. But Venugopal, who holds the more important post of general secretary (organisation), is close to Rahul Gandhi and it appears the high command has decided to communicate their directions to Gehlot through him,” another Congress MLA said, adding that the Pilot faction is unlikely to get all the nine vacant Cabinet berths.
Important portfolios such as Tourism, Public Works Department, Food and Civil Supplies have been functioning without a full-time minister. Political appointments are also to be made to the Commission for Women and Commission for Minorities.
In July last year, the Rajasthan Congress had plunged into crisis after Pilot — the then Deputy Chief Minister and state Congress president — and 18 MLAs supporting him left Jaipur to camp in Haryana’s Manesar. The Gandhis intervened to woo Pilot back, but Gehlot won that round, with a majority of the MLAs backing him. Pilot consequently lost both his posts. Two of his supporters were removed as ministers. But he was promised that his supporters, including the MLAs, would be accommodated later.
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi had set up a three-member committee comprising the late Ahmed Patel, Venugopal and Maken to look into the issues raised by Pilot, but that too lost steam after some time.
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