Following weeks of relentless pressure by the Sachin Pilot camp, ahead of the entry of Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra into Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot has said he hasn’t received any “indication” from the party High Command about a possible change at the top in the state, while disparaging Pilot by saying he “doesn’t even have 10 MLAs”. The CM also termed Pilot’s 2020 actions as gaddari (treachery).
In an interview to NDTV aired on Thursday, Gehlot asked: “How can a person—who doesn’t even have 10 MLAs, and had led a revolt, which, by the way, is called gaddari—be acceptable to the people?”
On Pilot allegedly being hand-in-glove with the BJP during his 2020 rebellion, Gehlot reiterated he had proof that Pilot was indeed involved, “and Rs 10 crore was distributed (to each Congress MLA willing to switch sides)”.
The statements follow three weeks of relentless pressure by the Sachin Pilot camp, beginning with Pilot himself asking the central leadership to “end the climate of indecision in Rajasthan” on November 2, when he also took potshots at Gehlot, saying it was “interesting” that PM Narendra Modi had praised the CM (on November 1, at Mangarh Dham), and that this “must not be taken lightly”.
Subsequently, party leaders loyal to Pilot held press conferences in Jhalawar, Kota and Bundi districts and demanded that pending issues, including that of the state leadership, be addressed through one-on-one interactions between the central leadership and Rajasthan Congress MLAs. Incidentally, the Bharat Jodo Yatra is scheduled to enter Rajasthan through this cluster of districts, locally called Hadoti.
This was followed by parts of a letter, written by former state-in-charge Ajay Maken to party chief Mallikarjun Kharge, becoming public. In it, Maken had expressed his unwillingness to continue in the position; he was said to have been unhappy, given that no action had been taken against state Parliamentary Affairs Minister Shanti Dhariwal, party Chief Whip Mahesh Joshi and Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC) chairman Dharmendra Rathore, despite a disciplinary committee serving them show-cause notices.
While the Gehlot camp remained quiet on the issue, Pilot loyalist MLA Ved Prakash Solanki heaped praise on Maken, saying his letter had “embarrassed” party workers in the state.
This was followed by Osian MLA Divya Maderna, who has claimed her only allegiance is to the High Command. She attacked the Gehlot camp over the letter, saying, “A man with self-respect will have no other choice but to quit in such circumstances. That’s what Mr Maken did.” Since then, Pilot-camp leaders, such as Cabinet minister Hemaram Choudhary, SC Commission Chairman and MLA Khiladi Lal Bairwa and former MLA Suchitra Arya, have all been vocally batting for Pilot.
Through these developments, the Gehlot camp largely remained silent, while the CM’s outspoken loyalists, Rathore, Dhariwal and Joshi, have kept quiet since receiving the show-cause notices, or have been guarded about what they say in front of the press.
The recent back-to-back statements from the Pilot camp or their supporters—which almost appear coordinated—created an impression that there is a growing demand to make Pilot the CM, and that it cannot be delayed any longer.
It made sense when you recalled how Gehlot had dominated the headlines all of October—attacking Pilot and Maken without naming either, defending actions of his loyalists—first on October 2 and then again on October 17, saying there was no alternative to experience and that the youth need to have patience and wait for their turn. This was complemented by repeated mentions of the forthcoming state budget, all of which were meant to boost the impression that Gehlot is going to continue as the CM.
As Gehlot went on the offensive, suddenly, his face was everywhere—on billboards, road banners, and newspaper ads—partly due to the Investment Summit in October—but all building on the impression that Gehlot wasn’t going anywhere.
The tides began turning only with Pilot’s statements on November 2, followed quickly by those of his loyalists. The repeated comments from the Pilot camp and its supporters seemed to indicate a shift in perception in Pilot’s favour, a far cry from September 25, when around 90 MLAs had skipped the Congress Legislative Party meeting, painting Pilot as being largely isolated in the state.
It was then the turn of the Gehlot camp to go silent. Until now.
But Gehlot’s tactics are nothing new. Every time the Pilot camp has tried to play its leader up as the CM, Gehlot rekindles memories of 2020, when Pilot had rebelled against his government with 18 other MLAs. Disregarding the threats of fractures within the state party unit, he returns favour by doubling down and responding with more vitriol.
If anything, these developments again show that Kharge needs to come up quickly with a solution to the Rajasthan factionalism. Letting the status quo fester may have more destructive results for the party.