The fast-paced political developments in Jaipur have alarmed the Congress high command in Delhi, which had refrained so far from intervening in the deepening rift between Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot.
While senior Congress leaders claim that there is no threat to the Rajasthan government, the crisis has prompted many leaders to recall the exit of Jyotiraditya Scindia and the fall of the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh just three months ago.
At the heart of the tussle in Jaipur, senior Congress leaders say, is the “ego clash” between Gehlot and Sachin. The leaders admit that there is “deep distrust” between the two, manifested multiple times in the last one-and-a-half years. Referring to Scindia’s exit in MP, a former Union minister and AICC general secretary went to the extent of saying that “nothing is guaranteed in such situations”.
Party leaders point out that the clash is part of the larger problem in the Congress as many of the “impatient” young leaders are worried about their “future” since the party is yet to resolve the leadership question and is showing little signs of revival.
The tussle between Gehlot and Pilot began much before the Congress came to power in Rajasthan in December 2018. The feud came to the fore during candidate selection for the Assembly elections, too, and escalated when the high command decided to give the experienced Gehlot a third shot at Chief Ministership, with an eye on the Lok Sabha elections around the corner.
The decision upset Pilot, who had staked a claim to the post since he had played a major role in reviving the party after being appointed as its state president one month after its worst-ever defeat in 2013.
The two crossed swords soon over portfolio allocation, forcing the then party chief Rahul Gandhi to intervene. But then, Gehlot kept nine departments, including Finance and Home, to himself. Gehlot’s desire to field his son Vaibhav from Jodhpur in the Lok Sabha polls was the next chapter. After the Lok Sabha drubbing, the Pilot camp alleged that Gehlot focused all his attention on Jodhpur and hardly campaigned elsewhere.
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The power struggle continued. In October 2019, Pilot questioned the government’s decision to allow individuals who had not been directly elected by the people to contest mayoral polls. He spoke out again when the government completed one year in December 2019, saying it did not showcase achievements under his Ministry while celebrating the landmark.
A month later, the two crossed swords again over the death of infants at a Kota hospital, with Pilot saying that the government could have been “more sensitive and compassionate”. He argued that it may not serve any purpose to keep pointing to the previous government’s misdeeds, in an apparent response to Gehlot confidante and Health Minister Raghu Sharma’s comments blaming the BJP regime. Gehlot and Pilot again traded words over visiting the victims’ families, too.
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The latest flashpoint came during the Rajya Sabha elections when Gehlot alleged an attempt to topple his government by the BJP. But after the victory of the party’s candidates, including AICC general secretary K C Venugopal, Pilot said: “I have been claiming that both our candidates shall win and what we claimed has turned out true. Any kind of doubts and suspicions spread around earlier were baseless.”
On Saturday, Pilot did not respond to requests from The Sunday Express seeking comment. In the BJP, meanwhile, leaders say they will “wait and watch” as they feel the crisis “is being played out within the Congress”.
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