THE shock waves triggered by the defiance of MLAs loyal to Ashok Gehlot in skipping a CLP meeting called for by the high command here on September 25 are yet to settle down. While Gehlot now finds the tide turned against him, he can perhaps take solace from the fact that in those few brief hours on Sunday, he may have changed a tradition in the state where the Congress high command has often played fast and loose with its CMs.
Over one decade in the 1980s, the party changed six CMs, with Hari Dev Joshi and Shiv Charan Mathur occupying the post twice, failing to complete their term each time.
1971: Mohan Lal Sukhadia, CM of 16 years, goes
Throughout the late 1950s and ’60s, Rajasthan was led by Congress stalwart Mohan Lal Sukhadia, whose total tenure of 16 years remains the longest so far of any CM in the state. Sukhadia retained an iron grip on the state unit despite other doyens in the ranks like the Mirdha and Maderna families.
However, Sukhadia’s downfall began with the 1969 election for President of the country, when he backed the wrong horse in the battle for control of the party between Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and old-timers. The latter included K Kamaraj and then Congress president S Nijalingappa, a group that was popularly known as the Syndicate.
For the President’s post, the Syndicate-backed Neelam Sanjiva Reddy was the official candidate of the Congress. However, sitting vice-president V V Giri threw his hat in the ring as an Independent, with the tacit support of Indira Gandhi. After she asked Congressmen to “vote as per their conscience”, Giri defeated Reddy to become the President.
The election and what followed led to the split of the Congress, and marked the beginning of the Indira Age in the Congress. Sukhadia who, along with an overwhelming number of his loyalist MLAs, had voted for Reddy, found himself in the doghouse.
Shortly after this, in July 1971, Sukhadia was made to resign as CM despite enjoying the support of a majority of the Congress MLAs.
He was replaced by Barkatullah Khan, an Indira loyalist and one of the few Rajasthan Congress leaders to have voted for Giri in the presidential election. Till date, Khan remains the only Muslim CM of Rajasthan.
However, in 1973, Khan passed away, and it led to the Congress elevating Hari Dev Joshi to the post. He held it till 1977, when his government was dismissed by the newly-formed Janata Party government in the Centre, and President’s rule imposed.
From 1977 to 1980, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat led the first non-Congress government in the state, before it was dismissed by a resurgent Congress after Indira returned to power in the 1980 Lok Sabha elections.
1980s, a new CM every few years
In June 1980, Jagannath Pahadia became the first Dalit CM of Rajasthan. Never active in state politics, he was an MP who was handpicked by the high command. Just over a year later, as the dissatisfaction of the MLAs mounted, Pahadia had to step down.
Pahadia also ran into a row, as per Congress old-timers in Rajasthan, for his remarks that he didn’t understand the writings of famous Hindi author Mahadevi Verma. This was at a literary function in Jaipur, where Verma was also present. A complaint reportedly went to the PM, and Pahadia was out.
Senior Congress leader Shiv Charan Mathur — who was among those who had voted for Giri in the 1969 election for President — was the next to become CM.
His tenure lasted three years, before a police encounter of a member of the erstwhile royal family blew up on him. On February 21, 1985, Man Singh, an Independent MLA from Deeg and a member of the Bharatpur royal family, was killed in a police encounter, a day after he crashed his jeep into the helicopter of CM Mathur in a fit of rage.
In the outrage that resulted, Mathur had to resign.
Congress leader Hira Lal Devpura was sworn in his place, but for a period of just 15 days. When it returned to power in the 1985 Assembly elections, the Congress decided not to continue with Devpura and brought back Hari Dev Joshi.
Joshi, whose government had been last time dismissed in 1977, could not complete five years this time too. In 1987, the image of the Joshi government came under a cloud following the Deorala Sati case, in which a Rajput woman, Roop Kanwar, was said to have willingly burnt herself in the pyre of her husband. As the government was forced to take action, it faced counter protests from the Rajput community.
The final nail in Joshi’s chief ministership was driven by an incident in Sariska, where then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi decided to hold a meeting of his Council of Ministers. Rajiv gave strict instructions that the party leaders coming to the meeting would have to maintain austerity, and no special arrangements, including that of vehicles with beacons or convoys, should be made.
What transpired has become a folklore of sorts in Rajasthan Congress circles. While Rajiv reached Sariska in December 1988 without much fanfare in his car, a turn in the road took him to a place where many official state government vehicles were parked.
The story in Congress circles goes that a policeman stationed in Sariska diverted the PM’s car there, and that then Rajasthan state Congress president Ashok Gehlot had something to do with it. Rajiv was reportedly furious over Joshi not heeding his directions of austerity and went on to publicly rebuke the CM.
Within a month, Joshi had to resign and Shiv Charan Mathur, who had to relinquish his CM post in wake of the Bharatpur encounter, was back. Mathur took oath in January 1988, and his government also had Gehlot, who was an MP at that time, as the Home Minister.
But Mathur’s government lasted just short of two years, and he resigned after the Congress’s poor performance in Rajasthan in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections. The polls saw the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress losing, and V P Singh taking charge as PM.
Hari Dev Joshi, who was at the time the Governor of Assam, rushed to Rajasthan to hold the CM post for a third time, but for only 90 days. In the Assembly polls soon after, in 1990, the Congress lost.
The end of Congress era
The period of 1990 to 1998 saw Bhairon Singh Shekhawat serving two terms as CM, leading BJP-Janata Dal governments. In 1998, Gehlot became the CM for the first time, and since then, every five years, the post has been held either by him or by the BJP’s Vasundhara Raje.
Gehlot has served thrice as the CM, while Raje has helmed the post twice.