Left red-faced by the defiance shown by its MLAs in Rajasthan, complicating their leader and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s bid for the Congress presidency, the party high command Tuesday started working on a two-pronged strategy to contain the crisis. It has allowed some leaders to open channels of communication with Gehlot and is exploring all options, including looking for an alternate candidate.
The decision by the leadership is being seen as an indication that Gehlot is not out of the race for the top post. Sources said senior leaders Anand Sharma and Ambika Soni spoke to Gehlot in a bid to find an amicable solution. The leadership also called Gehlot’s state rival Sachin Pilot to Delhi.
But sources said the leadership is clear that the Rajasthan Chief Minister will have to accede to the wishes of the high command and “can’t expect to have it both ways”. On Tuesday, the party issued show cause notices to Rajasthan Parliamentary Affairs Minister Shanti Dhariwal, state chief whip Mahesh Joshi and RTDC chief Dharmendra Rathore, asking them to reply within 10 days on the “unofficial meeting” held by its MLAs in Jaipur on Sunday which, it said, amounted to “grave indiscipline”.
Sources said the report submitted by AICC in-charge Ajay Maken to Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Sunday’s events made it clear that all those who boycotted the official CLP meeting were close aides of Gehlot. The report, sources said, has neither indicted the Chief Minister nor has given him a clean chit.
In Jaipur, meanwhile, the Gehlot camp went into damage-control mode with state minister Pratap Singh Khachariyawas underlining that “no MLA” is against Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi — and that Sonia Gandhi is considered as a “mother” by the MLAs.
“If some MLAs put forth their mann ki baat, adhikar ki baat (what was on their mind, matter of rights) to Sonia Gandhi ji and Rahul Gandhi ji, and presented their resignation in anger, then it is a family issue. Not a single MLA is against Sonia ji or Rahul ji… Today, if they order, every MLA is ready to fight the ED, Income Tax, CBI,” Khachariyawas said.
“She (Sonia Gandhi) made such an immense sacrifice that every Congress worker considers her as their mother and gives her the same respect,” he said.
Sonia Gandhi was said to be livid after Sunday’s developments, when around 90 MLAs from the Gehlot camp skipped the CLP meeting to convey their anger over the high command’s “unilateral” decision to appoint a Chief Minister “without consulting” them. Later that day, the MLAs also submitted their resignation to Rajasthan Assembly Speaker C P Joshi.
The development attracted negative publicity in the middle of Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra. Rahul had last week indicated that Gehlot will have to abide by the party’s one person, one post norm if he becomes Congress president in the election on October 17.
The party’s notice to Dhariwal accused him of committing “grave indiscipline by hosting a parallel MLAs meeting at your residence pressuring them not to attend the official meeting”. “As Parliamentary Affairs Minister, hosting the unofficial meeting confused the Congress MLAs,” it said.
The notice to Joshi said, “You as chief whip have conducted grave indiscipline on two counts. (a) Boycotting the official CLP meeting even after you had informed (given notice) to every Congress MLA to attend it and (b) by participating and convening a parallel meeting of the MLAs at the time when officially appointed observers were waiting for the official meeting to start.”
Rathore was accused of making logistical arrangements for the meeting of MLAs.
The party high command is also believed to be looking at consultations with other leaders, signalling that it was working on two fronts. Sonia, who met Kamal Nath on Monday, held separate meetings with Sharma and Soni on Tuesday. A K Antony, who is in a state of semi-retirement in Kerala, has also been called to Delhi, and is expected to arrive Tuesday night.
The names of several leaders, such as Mallikarjun Kharge, Kamal Nath, Digvijaya Singh, Mukul Wasnik and Sushil Kumar Shinde, are doing the rounds as probable candidates. And, there are indications that a consensus could be reached at the last minute with AICC treasurer Pawan Kumar Bansal collecting two sets of nomination papers on Monday.
Bansal told The Indian Express he had collected the form as a proposer for someone else. Asked who the candidate will be, he said, “It will become clear soon.”
The other likely candidate for the party president’s post, Shashi Tharoor, has managed to get the signatures of close to 30 PCC delegates from across the country. Sources said at least three Lok Sabha MPs, too, have signed proposing his name. He will file his nomination at 11 am on September 30, the last day of filing of nominations.
Meanwhile, Congress Central Election Authority head Madhusudan Mistry met Sonia Gandhi along with AICC data analytics department’s chairperson Praveen Chakravarty and AICC secretary B P Singh. They gave her the final list of PCC delegates — who form the electoral college for the Congress presidential election — and her QR-coded identity card. Sonia is a PCC delegate from Uttar Pradesh.