The shaky truce between the Rajasthan Congress factions loyal to Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and former Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot unravelled on Sunday as the state was once again pushed into a political crisis.
This time, MLAs backing Gehlot skipped the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting convened by the party’s high command and tendered their resignations to Assembly Speaker CP Joshi. While the legislators on the CM’s side have been vocal, those in the Pilot camp have not yet publicly commented on the tussle. The Congress on Tuesday issued a show-cause notice to Gehlot loyalists Shanti Dhariwal, Mahesh Joshi and Dharmendra Rathore.
Here are the main players in the ongoing political drama:
The three-time CM successfully defended his government in the wake of Pilot’s rebellion in 2020. This year, the danger to his position did not come from any challenge to his leadership but because of the possibility of a move to Delhi in the event of a victory in the Congress presidential election. That would have meant relinquishing the post. MLAs loyal to Gehlot defied the party’s high command, expressing their opposition to any move to hand over the state’s reins to Pilot.
In his public statements, Gehlot has made it clear that he is open to stepping down as CM if he is elected the national president. At the same time, his supporters have defied the central leadership and accused the central leader in charge of Rajasthan, Ajay Maken, of being partial towards Pilot.
Govind Singh Dotasra
The incumbent state Congress president succeeded Pilot after the events in 2020. Even though he is a Gehlot loyalist, Dotasra has kept a low profile in the ongoing crisis because in his current role he has to routinely interact with Maken and any indication that the state party chief was involved in Gehlot MLAs’ plans to skip the CLP meeting and hold parallel talks would further damage the government’s image in the eyes of the high command. Dotasra was with Gehlot in Jaisalmer on Sunday, the day the crisis began.
Gehlot’s most trusted confidant, Dhariwal played the lead role by hosting around 90 MLAs at his residence and making sure that each of them signed their resignation letters and submitted them to Speaker CP Joshi. After Maken said the MLAs had indulged in indiscipline, Dhariwal accused him of being partial towards Pilot. A three-time MLA and one-term MP, 79-year-old Dhariwal is the state parliamentary affairs minister.
Pratap Singh Khachariyawas
Once the right-hand man of Pilot, Khachariyawas switched camps during the 2020 crisis and is now among the CM’s staunchest supporters. The two-term MLA is also the state Food and Civil Supplies Minister.
Khachariyawas played a crucial role in assembling the MLAs at Dhariwal’s residence and acted as their spokesperson later on. Before visiting CP Joshi, he told the media that the MLAs were going to tender their resignations as they were miffed with the fact that those who had rebelled against the party two years earlier would stand to gain if Piot became the CM. Khachariyawas has steadfastly maintained that Gehlot had no hand in the MLAs’ decision to skip the CLP meeting and alleged that the BJP was trying to topple the state government.
The former Jaipur MP and current minister of the state’s public health engineering department is an old Gehlot supporter with a background in student politics. He is also the Congress chief whip, a crucial post that puts him in charge of all the party’s MLAs. It is up to Joshi to issue a whip in case of a CLP meeting, which MLAs are bound to follow. In 2020, he issued a whip and when the Sachin Pilot camp MLAs didn’t turn up, he requested the Speaker to take disciplinary action against them. Ironically, despite being the chief whip, this time Joshi was one of the main organisers of the parallel meeting at Dhariwal’s home.
The Independent MLA is an advisor to the CM. The vocal Gehlot supporter had warned on the day of the CLP meeting that if the opinions of MLAs were not sought by the Congress central leadership then the government could be in danger. A three-time legislator from Sirohi, Lodha was denied a ticket by Pilot in 2018. At the time, Pilot led the state Congress. Lodha recently said Gehlot should be allowed to remain CM and take charge of the party nationally.
The Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) MLA supports the Congress government. A former government employee, Garg is known to be close to Gehlot and is also a Minister of State in the state administration. Much like Lodha, he actively participated in the meeting at Dhariwal’s home.
Dharmendra Rathore is Gehlot’s trusted lieutenant who often acts as the CM’s pointsman for overtures to the Rajput community. He is the chairperson of the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC). Rathore was present at Dhariwal’s residence throughout Sunday evening and took the initiative of ensuring that a maximum number of MLAs attend the meeting.
The former deputy CM was the state Congress president from 2014 to 2020. He had hoped to be the CM after bringing the Congress to power in 2018 but missed out on the top job after most MLAs rallied behind Gehlot. Pilot has remained silent during the ongoing political storm and left for Delhi on Tuesday.
Khiladi Lal Bairwa
The Rajasthan SC Commission chairperson recently openly batted for Pilot to be made the CM. Following Gehlot loyalists’ rebellion, Bairwa once again praised Pilot and also met him at his residence, leaving little doubts about where his allegiances lie. In August, Bairwa had slammed the Gehlot government over the death of a nine-year-old Dalit boy in Jalore district. “We are with the high command. We have kept him (Gehlot) for 35 years,” he said on Monday.
Rajendra Singh Gudha
Gudha, an MLA from Udaipurwati in Jhunjhunu district, has twice switched to the Congress — in 2008 and 2018 — after winning elections on a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) ticket. Earlier, he was counted as a Gehlot supporter but in recent months he has expressed dissatisfaction with the state government for allegedly not fulfilling the promises made to former BSP MLAs who joined the Congress after the elections. Last week, Gudha openly backed Pilot as CM. After the meeting at Dhariwal’s home, he accused the minister of “showing signs of old age” and termed the move to skip the CLP meeting as “stupidity”.
The incumbent Speaker is a former Union minister. His name, at one point, emerged as a possible CM candidate of Gehlot’s choice if he ultimately does have to relinquish his position and move to Delhi. Joshi once used to be Gehlot’s rival but the two have now buried the hatchet. While Joshi met the MLAs backing Gehlot at his residence on Sunday night, he has remained silent on the next course of action or whether he accepted the resignations.
The Congress general secretary in charge of Rajasthan succeeded Avinash Pandey in the post following the 2020 crisis. At that time, he was flown to Rajasthan as a troubleshooter. After the CLP meeting on Sunday did not take place, he met the representatives of the Gehlot camp MLAs. He has since said that the MLAs backing the CM insisted on an assurance that neither Pilot nor his associates would be made the CM. Maken refused to give in and accused the MLAs of indiscipline. Maken also said he would submit a report to Congress president Sonia Gandhi about the developments in Rajasthan.
The Congress high command appointed the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha an observer for the CLP meeting.
The Osian MLA, who was at the CM’s home for the CLP meeting, has made it clear that she is with the high command and lambasted Dhariwal and Mahesh Joshi, even going on to term call them “traitors”. During the 2020 crisis, she had sided with the Gehlot group. On Tuesday, she called for Dhariwal and the chief whip’s sacking from the Cabinet “for openly challenging the high command”. She added, “Sachin Pilot, Ramesh Meena, Vishwendra Singh were sacked from the Cabinet without giving notices.”
The 37-year-old MLA belongs to an old political family. She is a third-generation politician. Her father, the late Mahipal Maderna, was a minister and among the main accused in the Bhanwari Devi murder case that rocked the state during Gehlot’s previous term as CM. Her grandfather was a front-runner to be the CM in 1998 but stepped aside when the central leadership announced it wanted Gehlot to take charge of the state. It was Gehlot’s first term as CM.