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Ashok Gehlot’s most trusted, Shanti Dhariwal, comes through for him again, hosts his loyalist MLAs

Dhariwal has taken on high command earlier for Gehlot, was natural destination for his camp through Sunday drama

Shanti Kumar Dhariwal (first from right) along with other Gehlot supporter MLAs submitting their resignation to Assembly Speaker C P Joshi on Sunday. (Express Photo)

There is a reason Ashok Gehlot trusted Shanti Kumar Dhariwal with his 90-plus loyalist MLAs amidst the game of thrones in Rajasthan. On Sunday, the MLAs camped in Dhariwal’s backyard, thus take air out of the official CLP meeting called to determine Gehlot’s successor as Chief Minister.

With his hospitality, the 78-year-old MLA from Kota North once again demonstrated why he is regarded as one of Gehlot’s fiercest supporters, even ready to take on the high command on his behalf.

Congress observer Mallikarjun Kharge and Rajasthan in-charge Ajay Maken kept waiting to hold the CLP meeting – they returned on Monday without any success – as the party MLAs stayed put at Dhariwal’s house, and later submitted their resignation to Speaker C P Joshi.

The first indication that the CLP meeting — supposed to start at 7 pm on Sunday – would not go on as planned came early evening when tents, chairs and fans reached Dhariwal’s residence.

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Videos from inside Dhariwal’s house made it clear where his allegiances lay. “If anyone can reap the advantage of the great schemes (introduced by the Rajasthan government), it is only Ashok Gehlot. If this (CM) chair is changed, if Ashok Gehlot is changed, then the next person will not be able to make use of this advantage, and the Congress will lose. That is why we want that by whatever means, Ashok Gehlot stays,” said Dhariwal.

He also questioned the high command for calling a CLP meeting to seek a successor for Gehlot, and for putting out the message that they wanted him to quit in line with the one man, one post principle.

“Anyone in the high command, tell me this, which two posts are with Ashok Gehlot today that you are asking for his resignation? He has only one post, that of the CM. When he gets the other post, then the talk arises. What has happened today that you are getting ready to ask for his resignation? This entire conspiracy cost (us) Punjab (in what seemed like a reference to Amarinder Singh’s eventual exit from the Congress) and now Rajasthan will also be lost. If we are on alert, Rajasthan will be saved, otherwise Rajasthan will also slip from our hand,” said Dhariwal.

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Last year too, Dhariwal had made his views clear on leadership change in the state. In a short video clip that went viral, when asked by reporters about his thoughts on Maken taking a feedback then too from party MLAs for changes in the organisation, he had shot back: “Kaun kar raha hai badlav? Kaun kar raha hai badlav? Yahan toh Ashok Gehlotji hain jo kuchch hain (Who is making changes? Who is making changes? Here, there is only Ashok Gehlotji).”

Not known to be a mass leader and hence owing much to the Rajasthan CM, Dhariwal, who will be 80 by the time the next Assembly elections are held, has served in different capacities in previous Gehlot governments. These include holding portfolios such as Home and Urban Development and Housing. He is currently the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Local Self Government, Urban Development & Housing, Law & Legal Affairs, Legal Consultancy Office, and Elections.

A three-time MLA and one-term MP from Kota district, he has remained in the top ranks of the party hierarchy despite two Lok Sabha losses.

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Dhariwal is believed to have earned his stripes when it comes to issues of local and civic bodies, thus explaining his long stint as the Urban Development and Housing Minister. While the BJP has traditionally dominated local body elections in urban areas of Rajasthan, Dhariwal’s efforts are credited with ensuring that the Congress could finally form its municipal boards, after bifurcation of the corporations in Jaipur, Jodhpur and Kota. This meant that out of the two municipal corporations in each of these three cities, the Congress won a clear majority in at least one.

This power play helped boost Dhariwal’s stature further in the party.

Incidentally, one of the measures suggested by Dhariwal as minister had been shot down by Gehlot’s rival Sachin Pilot. The latter had objected to a proposal by Dhariwal that a person voted by councillors could become mayor even if he or she had not contested local body elections. Pilot, who back then was the Deputy CM, had put his foot down against this “hybrid” system of mayoral elections.

As Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Dhariwal is often required to defend the Gehlot government in the Assembly and table Bills on the government’s behalf, as well as keep MLAs updated on the CM’s messages.

First published on: 26-09-2022 at 06:18:10 pm
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