As the crisis in its Rajasthan unit raged, the Congress high command last Thursday advised leaders in the state to refrain from making public statements against each other or about the party’s internal matters. But Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot kept pushing the boundaries on Sunday when he took a veiled dig at his rival and former Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot and ruled out Shashi Tharoor’s chances of becoming the next Congress president, saying the Thiruvananthapuram MP belongs to an “elite class”.
After paying tribute to Mahatma Gandhi at the state secretariat, Gehlot told reporters that all Congress leaders should reflect on why MLAs last week became so angry over the possibility of a new CM being named and defied the central leadership. The CM said that what happened on September 25 was an unusual case and it would be written in “case history, as to why it happened”.
He said when a new CM is supposed to be appointed “then 80-90 per cent MLAs leave the (incumbent) CM, and want to catch the new CM, that they want to become a minister, we will need to approach him for work, this is the norm, and I don’t think this is wrong”. This was also one of Gehlot’s talking points with Sonia Gandhi on September 29, as per photographs of his talking points that were clicked as he was heading into a meeting with the Congress president. The second point read, “Rajneeti mein hawa badalte dekh, saath chhor dete hain. Yahan aisa nahin hua (People change sides looking at the changing political scenario. It didn’t happen here).”
“But what was this case where it was known that if I become the (party) president, and there will be a new CM, so what was the reason that hearing about a new CM woh iss kadar matlab bhadak gaye (they got so agitated). This has never happened before. What was their fear, what were they feeling, and how did they know?” Gehlot told journalists.
Annoyed with the Congress high command’s “unilateral decision” to opt for a new chief minister without consulting them, around 90 MLAs skipped the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting and submitted their resignation to Speaker CP Joshi late on September 25. At the time, Gehlot was in the running to be the Congress president and the leadership had made it clear that he would have to step down as CM if he won the internal party election. The leadership was said to be in favour of Pilot succeeding Gehlot as CM. The MLAs rebelled and their resignations have been pending with Joshi since then.
“I was out and touring, sometimes in Kochi, or Jaisalmer, so I could not guess (about the incoming CM) … I understand that all the sides, all our leaders should think how the truth came out in this manner, why were the MLAs angry?” Gehlot said.
He claimed that the MLAs had ignored him too. “When the PCC president (Govind Singh Dotasra) told the MLAs to go (for the CLP meeting), they responded angrily that we have given resignations. When Dotasra ji said Ashok Gehlot would not fill up the form for party president election, (they said) ‘nahi bharein form, humein koi matlb nahi hai (so he shouldn’t fill the form, we don’t care)’. (They said) ‘he became our abhibhavak (guardian) in Jaisalmer and when our guardian is going to Delhi, then who is he leaving us behind with?’”
The CM repeatedly said he couldn’t forget or deceive the 102 MLAs who supported his government in 2020. “How can I forget the 102 (MLAs)? I am saying, whether I stay or not, that’s different, but tell me, how can I forget those with whom I had promised that I am your guardian? Even if two to four among them comment against me today, even then how can I forget their ehsan (favour) because they saved my government? Later on, equations change and misunderstandings arise … They were offered Rs 10 crore to leave the hotel (in 2020). And when the Governor fixed a date to call the Assembly, then it was (Rs.) 10-20-30-40-50 (crore; the MLAs were offered to) take anything … but they (the BJP) could not have their way in Rajasthan. So how can I stay far from them (the 102 MLAs)?”
Taking a dig at the Pilot camp, he said the BJP was hand in glove back then “with these people”. Alleging that some MLAs from the rival group met Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan at the time, the CM said, “There was a meeting at Amit Shah’s place, everyone knows, some MLAs had gone … Amit Shah ji was laughing and feeding sweets to our MLAs, (saying) ‘wait a little more, wait a little more …’”
Gehlot said, “So how could I deceive the 102 MLAs who saved my government? Hence I agreed to apologise before the Congress president … as the CLP leader, it was my duty to feel sorry.”
Implying that his loyalists were dissatisfied with Ajay Maken, the party’s central leader in charge of Rajasthan and observer for the CLP meeting, the CM said, “Observer is a very big post. They come on behalf of the Congress president. Hence, we behave with them the same way and the observers too need to act a certain way to maintain the Congress president’s personality, her thinking, behaviour, aura …”
Confident about Kharge’s win
Meanwhile, the Rajasthan CM ruled out Tharoor’s chances of becoming Congress president as he comes “from an elite class”. Gehlot claimed Tharoor’s rival Mallikarjun Kharge was headed toward a “one-sided win” since he had more in common with Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) delegates.
“Kharge saheb is a very experienced person. He has won elections 11 times, nine times Assembly and two times Parliament (elections). He has had a long political career and is quite experienced for the organisation … bahut he saaf dil ke insaan hain (he has a clean heart) and comes from the Dalit community,” said the CM who was among those who nominated Kharge.
Praising Tharoor as “a good person” who “keeps good thoughts”, Gehlot said, “He was in the United Nations (UN) and when he campaigned to become the UN Secretary-General, I saw that too.”
The CM added, “He is a different class, he is an elite class. He can be a master of his craft but what the Congress worker thinks of the organisation, and how the organisation can be strengthened at the block, booth and district levels; so, Kharge saheb has the organisational experience, he cannot be compared with Shashi Tharoor ji.”
Asked if he would stay on as CM, Gehlot said, “I had said in August itself that it is not necessary whether I stay on as CM or not, I can withdraw, you get a survey done and if it looks like we can form a government this way, then I will give full support, I will campaign … (since) if I continue as CM and our government is not formed, then what is the meaning?”
Gehlot has given ample indication that he will continue at the helm of the state. On Saturday, asked by reporters who would present next year’s state Budget, he requested the public to send their suggestions about the Budget directly to him. Some newspapers on Sunday published the CM’s message in ads for the Invest Rajasthan summit, which is going to be held in Jaipur on October 7 and 8.