As over 90 Congress and Independent MLAs supporting Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot tried to arm twist the party high command on Sunday into not taking a decision to elevate Sachin Pilot to the CM post, their destination was the house of Assembly Speaker C P Joshi in Jaipur’s Civil Lines, where the legislators tendered their resignations to Joshi.
A former Union minister and once a rival of Gehlot, Joshi’s political career has come full circle. From being Gehlot’s bête noire who lost the CM race to him by a whisker, to resurrection after the 2018 Assembly elections, to becoming the Assembly Speaker, he is now being considered a potential CM candidate in case Gehlot agrees to relinquish the CM post, as he looks set to become the Congress national president.
A former professor of psychology, five-time MLA from Nathdwara and a former MP, the 72-year-old Joshi is one of the tallest leaders of the Rajasthan Congress, counted in the league of Gehlot and Pilot with a political career spanning four decades. Known to be no-nonsense and a stickler for rules, Joshi is also a good orator both in Hindi and English. With his deep knowledge of the country’s politics, Joshi is fond of digressing into lectures on the Indian Constitution and contribution of leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru in his poll speeches.
Having won his first Assembly election back in 1980, he had gone on to serve in the first Gehlot government of 1998 as a cabinet minister. After Gehlot lost his government in the 2003 Assembly elections to the BJP led by Vasundhara Raje, Joshi had been elevated to the post of the state Congress president.
Much like Pilot, it was in his role as PCC president that Joshi consolidated power and emerged as a challenger to Gehlot in the state Congress. Many started seeing him as a potential CM candidate, a belief strengthened due to Joshi’s proximity to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.
Congress sources say such was the clout of Joshi’s rising star in the party before the 2008 Assembly elections that even Gehlot was unsure about whether he would be able to return as CM for a second time if the Congress was voted to power.
Then came a peculiar twist of fate. While under Joshi’s leadership the Congress did emerge as the single-largest party in Rajasthan, Joshi himself lost from his backyard Nathdwara by just one vote – getting 62,215 votes against his opponent and former protege Kalyan Singh Chouhan’s 62,216. As Joshi’s CM ambitions were dashed, Gehlot again occupied the chair.
In a double whammy for Joshi, the Rajasthan High Court later declared the election void, and the Supreme Court held it a tie. It was anyway too late for the veteran leader.
However, Joshi’s rise within the party remained steady, and in 2009, he was elected to the Lok Sabha from Bhilwara. Subsequently, he became a Union minister with important portfolios such as Rural Development, Road, Transport and Highways, along with additional charge of the Railway Ministry, and was also given charge of various states by the Congress. At one point, he was in-charge of nearly a dozen states at the same time.
The 2014 Lok Sabha elections he lost, from Jaipur Rural, were the second big blow to Joshi, and he remained out of action for several years after that. One bright spot at this time was Joshi’s success in ousting the all-powerful Lalit Modi from the Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA) in 2017, by defeating Modi’s son for the post of RCA president.
Joshi returned to state politics in the 2018 Assembly elections, and won comfortably from Nathdwara. A row over a remark that led to his chastisement by Rahul Gandhi, and a public apology by him, didn’t come in the way.
The Congress narrowly won the polls, and Pilot, the state unit chief, fancied his chances as CM. It was around this time that Joshi and Gehlot buried the hatchet and the two rivals made peace. Joshi’s selection as Speaker was seen as a sign of Gehlot’s trust in him, given the importance of the post in deciding who held the upper hand in the numbers game.
Joshi paid back in kind when, in 2019, he helped Gehlot’s son Vaibhav become RCA president, in his place.
During the 2020 political crisis, when Pilot rebelled against Gehlot, Joshi as Speaker played a crucial role by issuing notices to the rebel MLAs for not turning up for a CLP meeting despite a party whip. The matter went to court.
As Speaker though, Joshi is seen to be largely fair and non-partisan, often getting into arguments with both the ruling Congress and opposition BJP.
In the past few days, as Gehlot became the frontrunner for Congress national president post, Joshi’s name has come up again – this time as Gehlot’s preference for his successor, to keep Pilot out. A couple of days ago, Joshi got a visit from Pilot at his Assembly office, though what transpired remains unknown.
Joshi has also remained silent on speculations regarding a new role for him, including on whether he has accepted the resignations of the more than 90 MLAs who met him on Sunday night.