As a political storm rages in Rajasthan over Congress MLAs skipping the legislature party meeting called by the top leadership and resigning en masse, at least three legislators of the ruling party have reiterated that the high command is supreme and criticised their colleagues who organised a parallel meeting at the house of state Parliamentary Affairs Minister and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s confidant Shanti Dhariwal on Sunday.
Leading the clamour of voices against those who attended the meeting at Dhariwal’s home is Osian MLA Divya Maderna who was at Gehlot’s home when the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting was scheduled to be held. Apart from her, former minister and Khetri MLA Jitendra Singh and Ramnarain Meena from Kota district’s Pipalda have also backed the central leadership. Singh was initially among the MLAs who were at the parallel meeting and submitted his resignation to Speaker CP Joshi. But he made a U-turn on Monday.
All three were not among the 18 MLAs loyal to Pilot who had camped in Delhi and Haryana for over a month from July to August 2020 during the former deputy CM’s short-lived rebellion. At the time, they backed Gehlot and stayed in hotels with other Congress legislators supporting the CM.
“How can Mahesh Joshi boycott the CLP meeting being a chief whip of the party? Now onwards, I will not be taking any directions of party whip from him. He phoned all legislators to come for the CLP and he on parallel lead anti party activity at S Dhariwal’s residence,” Maderna tweeted on Monday, targeting Joshi, who was instrumental in organising the parallel meeting.
She added, “This is sheer indiscipline. Mahesh Joshi ji is thinking he is above Congress high command. Clearly directing Congress President what to do & what not to do. High command certainly knows who will strengthen or weaken the party. I don’t think Delhi top brass need his bogus advice (sic).”
The 37-year-old Maderna, whose Assembly constituency is in Gehlot’s home district Jodhpur, alleged that a plot was being hatched by Dhariwal to blackmail the party’s central leadership. Dhariwal has accused the central leader in charge of Rajasthan, Ajay Maken, of being partial toward Congress leader Sachin Pilot. The high command was said to be in favour of handing over Rajasthan’s reins to Pilot if Gehlot got elected the Congress president but the rebellion by MLAs loyal to the CM has put the party’s plans under a cloud.
Later speaking to reporters, Maderna said that in 1998 her grandfather Parasram Maderna had the support of the majority of MLAs but Gehlot became the CM because of the intervention of the party’s top brass.
“I am the granddaughter of Parasram Maderna who in 1998 told all the MLAs that what the Congress president says is acceptable to all and we abided by it. In a speech, he said that above us, there is god, after that if I listen to someone on this earth, that is the Congress president,” said Maderna who clarified that she was not part of any faction but with the Congress.
Losing Jat support
The events of 1998 also later led to the shift of the Jat vote to the BJP. Parasaram Maderna was one of the Congress’s prominent Jat faces and he was projected as the party’s face going into the 1998 Assembly elections. The Congress won 150 seats in the 200-member Assembly, its highest tally to date, as the Jat community voted overwhelmingly for Parasaram as it wanted to see a community member become the CM. But the Congress high command stepped in and backed Gehlot, then the state Congress chief and party president Sonia Gandhi’s choice, in the race for CM’s chair. Despite the backing of a majority of MLAs, Parasram Maderna abided by the high command’s instructions and let Gehlot become CM for the first time. Rajasthan did not get its first CM from the Jat community and that has remained so to date.
Following the 1998 elections, a section of the Jat community permanently became Gehlot’s detractors. In 2003, when a rising Vasundhara Raje styled herself as the “daughter-in-law of Jats”, the community’s votes shifted to the BJP and the Congress’s tally in the House plummetted to 56 seats from the record performance in the previous elections.
For a long time, Jats dominated politics in Rajasthan, with families such as the Mirdhas and the Madernas winning both state and parliamentary elections and serving in multiple ministerial posts. At present, state Congress leader Govind Singh Dotasra is a prominent face of the community but the Jats do not have a mass leader like earlier.
Divya Maderna is a third-generation politician. Her father, the late Mahipal Maderna, was also a minister. Mahipal Maderna was also among the main accused in the Bhanwari Devi murder case, which rocked the state during Gehlot’s previous term as CM. He died of cancer last year. The verdict in the case is still pending.
Following his about-turn, Jitendra Singh, who belongs to the Gujjar community, issued a statement reiterating that the high command has the last say in party matters. “Whatever the high command decides in Rajasthan, whoever it projects as the CM, I am with the high command. I don’t agree with this resignation policy. I respect the high command and am with their decision,” he added.
The 79-year-old Meena who was also at the CM’s house on Sunday for the CLP meeting said, “Despite the short notice, I went to the CLP meeting at the CM’s residence. Later, when I came to know that the meeting had been postponed, I left and returned to Kota. I am with Congress, and for me, any instruction by the party is supreme.”
The five-time MLA and one-term MP said he had been a Congress worker since the 1960s. He claimed to have met Jawaharlal Nehru in 1960 as a schoolboy during the then PM’s visit to Kota to inaugurate a barrage. “As part of his interaction with school students, Nehru ji spoke with me for nearly an hour. He even lamented to me that Jan Sangh was back then spreading the misinformation that if the dam is made and electricity is taken out of the water, then the crops will be damaged. I have always been a dedicated Congress worker.