In one line, senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Thursday sent a clear message to Ashok Gehlot: that he cannot hope to remain Rajasthan Chief Minister if he is elected as Congress president. But the big question that remains unanswered is the timing of his stepping down — will he resign after filing his nomination later this month or wait for counting day on October 19?
Sources in the Congress said the leadership is in favour of Sachin Pilot succeeding Gehlot, but the Chief Minister is keen that the views of the MLAs — most of them are with him — be taken. Rahul is expected to arrive in Delhi on Thursday night to meet his mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi who returned from abroad last week after undergoing a medical check-up.
“What we decided at Udaipur (chintan shivir)… that is a commitment of the Congress party. So I expect that commitment will be maintained,” Rahul said, responding to a question on the one-person, one-post rule that the party had decided to implement at its conclave in May. His clear signal, at a press conference in Kochi, came hours before the Chief Minister landed in Kerala to meet him.
Pilot had met Rahul in Kochi on Wednesday and sources said the Rajasthan quagmire figured prominently in their discussions. The Pilot camp wants Gehlot to step down before or after he files his nomination papers and a successor to be appointed. Pilot’s supporters are wary that if Gehlot continues as Chief Minister and is elected Congress president, he will have a “huge say” in picking his successor, and it may not be Pilot.
In an interview to The Indian Express, Gehlot said he understands that a person who holds the post of Congress president would not be able to do justice to the job if he holds any other post like that of Chief Minister. “It has never happened before… in history, there has never been a case when a person is both the Congress president and the Chief Minister of a state. That person will not be able to justify the Congress presidency. So, from that point of view, it is natural that woh Congress president rehke kaam kare (he should work as the Congress president), even though the two-posts issue may not apply in this case,” he said.
At the same time, Gehlot said winning the Assembly elections in Rajasthan due at the end of next year was very important for the party’s revival. He said the views of the MLAs would have to be taken into consideration while taking any decision.
Asked whether he believes that he should continue as Chief Minister till the elections, he said: “It is not necessary that I stay on as Chief Minister till the elections, remain for a month or six months, or not stay at all. Yeh depend karage ki hamari exercise wahan kis prakar se hai. (It depends on the party’s exercise there). What is the view of the MLAs? How should we go about it? So that there is unity in the party. After the crisis we underwent there, we would like everybody to move forward unitedly. The biggest challenge before us is to strengthen the Congress and move forward unitedly, given the situation in the country. So, it is necessary that the high command conducts its exercise there… ki sab ki raay kya banti hai, kya nahin banti hain (what is the opinion of everyone) … and decide based on that.”
Rahul, who has clearly told party leaders that he will not contest the party presidential elections, once again signalled at the press conference that he is firm on his decision. The notification for the elections was issued by the party’s Central Election Authority on Thursday, and the week-long nomination window will open Saturday. Rahul also welcomed a contest for the top post, saying it was a “good thing”.
Asked about the advice he would give the contestants, Rahul said: “One piece of advice… That you are taking on a position…it is a historic position and it is a position that defines and has defined a particular view of India. The Congress president is not just an organisational post. The Congress president is an ideological post. It is a belief system. So my advice would be that whoever becomes the Congress president should remember that he represents a set of ideas, a belief system and a vision of India.”
Rahul, however, refrained from saying that he was not going to contest. When pointed out that Congress workers would want to know why he doesn’t want to return as party president, he said: “My communication with the Congress workers is direct and not through the media. We are a family. I have a direct link with them. When they ask me, I tell them directly.”
“Any Congress worker, Congress leader who wants to fight the Congress election has the right to fight the Congress election. So I think, it is not a bad thing, I think, it is a good thing,” he said.
“I would like to point out one thing…it is interesting to me that everybody asks the question about when the Congress party election is going to take place…who is going to fight the Congress party election, but you do not do this about any other political party in the country. You do not ask this question about the BJP. You do not ask this question about the RSS. You do not ask this question about the Communists. You do not ask this question about the Samajwadi, about the BSP… And I am saying this with a significant amount of pride because we are the only political party in the country that does this,” he said.
Asked if all the Opposition parties should come together on a common platform, Rahul said, “I do think that it is very important that the Opposition parties come together and I think that is required to fight the ideology and the financial power and the institutional power as a result of the capture. So yes, I do think that the Opposition has a discussion and comes out with a strategy.”
About the split the party suffered in Goa as the yatra had begun, he said, “We are fighting a machine that has captured the institutional framework of this country, a machine that has unlimited money, that has unlimited ability to pressurise people, buy people, threaten people and the outcome of that is what you have seen in Goa.”
On the yatra spending just a few days in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, he said, “The yatra is a yatra that goes from one point of India to another point of India. That is the idea. That is the way we have designed it. We are not going to Bihar, West Bengal and Gujarat.”
He said it was impossible to walk 10,000km and cover every state. But the party had a clear view on what was to be done in Uttar Pradesh, he added.