THE DEFT power play by veteran Ashok Gehlot in full public glare in Rajasthan Sunday, after having announced his decision to contest for the high-stake Congress presidential election, has once again raised questions on the party leadership’s ability to manoeuvre decisions towards desired outcomes.
The Congress leadership – the Gandhi family – were caught off guard by the strategic play by Gehlot who emphatically signalled he would not be a pushover and would like to remain the king in his backyard. This despite the fact that Gehlot had been very clearly indicating he would like the views of the MLAs to be heard on the issue of selecting his successor.
He was keen that a leader close to him be appointed the successor. He was against Sachin Pilot taking over and perhaps that was the reason for him to signal that he wants to continue as Chief Minister till he is elected Congress president.
The leadership perhaps misread the signals. Sources in the Gehlot camp said the decision to call the CLP meet to anoint a new CM was baffling as the Chief Minister had not even filed his nomination paper for the post of Congress president.
Some Congress leaders had been of the view that Rahul Gandhi’s public signal to Gehlot that he cannot hope to occupy both the posts was embarrassing to him (Gehlot) and in all likelihood an incoming Congress president.
It is not known whether Gehlot shared the view. That by making his views public even before Gehlot met him at Kochi, Rahul, some leaders said, tried to cut the tactful veteran to size. Despite the pronouncement of neutrality by the Gandhis, most Congress leaders believe the family’s blessings are with him.
Sources in the Gehlot camp claimed Pilot had been calling up MLAs telling them he would be elected the CLP leader before Gehlot files the nomination. They say this prompted a reaction among the MLAs. So, did Pilot overplay his hand after getting a signal from the Gandhis?
While this is a claim, the fact remains that AICC observer Mallikarjun Kharge and AICC in-charge of the state did not hold any meetings with the MLAs before the public showdown.
Talking to The Indian Express from Jaipur after the mini rebellion by the MLAs loyal to Gehlot – which even saw them threatening to resign en masse – Ajay Maken said Sonia Gandhi had instructed him and Kharge to elicit the opinion of MLAs. It seems like an afterthought.
Maken said he and Kharge had conveyed Gandhi’s message to Shanti Kumar Dhariwal, Gehlot and PCC president Govind Singh Dotasra that the views of each and every MLA would be sought before arriving at a decision even though a resolution authorising the Congress president to take a decision on Gehlot’s successor would be passed at the CLP meeting.
If that is so, then it is clear the Gehlot camp wanted to show its might before that. Or the leadership did not anticipate such a public standoff. Whatever the case, the muscle flexing by Gehlot even before filing the nomination papers for the Congress president’s post has cast a shadow on his presidential election bid.
Gehlot, who could become the first president outside the Gandhi family in two-and-a-half decades, has clearly indicated that he – much like Sachin Pilot – cannot think beyond Rajasthan and could even challenge the leadership to protect his turf.