Updated: October 10, 2021 2:28:39 am
Four years since Ashok Gehlot gave the saffron party a scare in Gujarat as party in-charge for the state, his Health Minister Raghu Sharma has now been handed over the same task by the party as Gujarat heads to polls in 2022.
Several factors came into play for Sharma to be chosen for the post. First, unlike in 2017, Gehlot is now the Chief Minister. Back then, he brought the party closest to a victory in Gujarat in decades.
As Rajasthan CM, he can’t play the same role in Gujarat but his expertise on the state is indispensable. Party sources said that Gehlot will play an important role from the “back end” through Sharma, who is not entirely known for his political acumen. So, Gehlot will watch over the developments in Gujarat as Sharma does the leg work.
Second, Sharma shares a good equation with Gehlot and the two have excellent coordination. The best example is Rajasthan’s handling of Covid, where the state fared relatively better than some of its neighbours. While Gehlot led from the front, Sharma, as the Health Minister, complemented well by following up on the measures to control the disease.
On Saturday, at a press conference, Sharma said that he has not spoken at length with Gehlot on Gujarat yet but praised him for “wonderful results” and said that “if needed”, he’ll take the learnings from his experiences.
Third, Sharma is Brahmin and with the saffron party playing identity politics, this assumes significance since Congress needs to get the optics right. After arriving in Gujarat on Saturday for his proposed three-day visit to the state, among the first things Sharma did was go and pray at Bhadrakali temple in Ahmedabad.
Fourth, there was speculation that Pilot might be handed over the responsibility by the party high command. With Sharma being handed over the responsibility instead, it reinforces Gehlot’s stature and helps him consolidate the party unit in Rajasthan. It also sends a subtle message that unlike in Punjab, the party high command is with the CM. Then, through Sharma, and earlier through Harish Chaudhary as party observer for Punjab, Congress is also hoping to elevate leaders in Rajasthan other than Pilot, who is currently next only to Gehlot in the state.
Fifth, Sharma has been active in politics since his youth and is known to be assertive when needed. “This will help him connect with youth leaders in the state such as Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mevani, and he also shouldn’t have a problem of not being taken seriously by the older lot either,” a party leader said. On Saturday, Sharma said, “When someone is lodged in jail at the age of 17 or 18 during his days in student politics, then that person is not worried about ED, IT, jail, and nor the courts.”
Last, Sharma is not entirely new to Gujarat’s politics and in the 2002 Assembly elections, he worked in four districts close to the Rajasthan border — Mehsana, Banaskantha, Sabarkantha and Patan — working for the party in over two dozen Assembly constituencies. On Saturday, he said that he also accompanied Sunil Dutt in his 2005 Dandi Yatra when Dutt was yatra chairman.
Sharma first became an MLA between 2008 and 2013, and then an MP from Ajmer in 2018 through a bypoll. He resigned as an MP in December 2018 after being elected as an MLA from Kekri in Ajmer. On being handed the responsibility in the home state of the Prime Minister and the Home Minister, Sharma said that “the challenge should be tough. And if you find a way through that challenge, that is with your hard work.” During his three-day visit, Sharma said, he will hold one-to-one meetings “with senior leaders and frontal organisations” as well as all party MLAs and district presidents.
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