Two days after his apology to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and announcement that it was up to her to decide the new Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot on Saturday indicated that it will be him.
Asked by reporters as to who would present next year’s Budget in the state, Gehlot replied by urging the public to send their suggestions about the budget to him. He was speaking in Bikaner, having returned from Delhi and resumed his duties of Chief Minister Saturday.
“I have said that we will present a budget for students and the youth. I am repeating once again and appealing to the youth, students and the public of the state that they send the suggestions that they have in their minds directly to me. I want to bring those schemes which are in their hearts. Because the future of the country is the youth,” he said.
This is also a departure from what Gehlot had told reporters on September 25, just before his loyalist MLAs skipped a scheduled CLP meeting to announce support for him, ahead of a CM change. With Congress presidency seen as within his reach, Gehlot had said he would brief “the next CM” on suggestions regarding schemes for students and the youth for the next budget.
At the time, his statement was seen as a signal that Gehlot was ready to step down to contest the Congress national presidential election. He also said that the new generation should be given a chance.
Now, with the Jaipur rebellion resulting in an apology by him to Sonia and his withdrawal from the Congress presidential race, Gehlot appears to be again playing hardball. After Gehlot’s meeting with Sonia, the Congress had said that the Congress president would decide the next Rajasthan CM.
Having signed on Mallikarjun Kharge’s papers for the Congress presidential election just Friday, Gehlot said in Bikaner: “I am telling the public that you change the government repeatedly (after every five years), even when their work is good. At times you have got swayed by Modiji’s wave, once state government employees opposed me because we couldn’t have dialogue with them and it led to a strike… Our government was voted out, we accept it. In my first term (1998-2003), because of a lack of dialogue, the government fell. Next time (2008-2013), such an environment was built in the country in favour of Modiji that even (Delhi CM) Sheila Dikshit lost the elections. We were about to win in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh but we lost there too. I am requesting the public, this time give us another chance.”
Gehlot also said that till his last breath he would serve the people of Rajasthan.
Calling himself a “humble” man, Gehlot said it was to counter this image that PM Modi, during his visit to Abu Road on late Friday evening, bent down thrice before the public.
“May god keep him humble and the country get a message. But we are requesting him repeatedly that you give a message of brotherhood and love too, and say I will not tolerate violence. He is not heeding this advice, but what does he want to say by bending down three times?” said Gehlot.
The CM’s remarks come at a time when the Congress ranks on both sides of the Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot camps have gone absolutely silent, following a rap from the central Congress leadership.
“We have been asked to absolutely not give any statements,” a senior Congress minister from the Gehlot faction, who in the past one week was at the forefront in attacking Pilot loyalists, said.
On being asked about general secretary (organisation) Venugopal’s statement that Sonia will decide who will be the Rajasthan CM in one-two days, the minister said: “At the moment, it doesn’t look like there will be any change (of CM).”
In the Pilot camp, the excitement that was apparent after the September 25 CLP meeting was announced, hinting that the 45-year-old might finally get his coveted chief ministership, has waned, with most of his loyalists preferring to wait and watch.
Sources say that the rebuke by Venugopal, and Rajasthan AICC in-charge Ajay Maken’s statement, that the Gehlot loyalist MLAs who convened the parallel gathering had displayed indiscipline has buoyed the Pilot faction. Till now, it was they who carried this tag, for having triggered the 2020 political crisis.
Meanwhile, the Rajasthan BJP continued to target the Congress over the developments in its state unit. Leader of Opposition Gulab Chand Kataria said: “The 8 crore public of Rajasthan has been insulted because their leader sometimes says that he will abide by the party high command, but as the (CM) post is about to go, deploys his lieutenants to get resignations of MLAs!”