Cross over Congress high command’s ‘unilateral’ decision to opt for a Chief Minister without consulting them, around 90 MLAs loyal to Ashok Gehlot submitted their resignation to Rajasthan Assembly Speaker C P Joshi late on Sunday. Gehlot is expected to file his nomination papers for the party president’s post soon.
As the Congress high command’s inclination to hand over the chief ministership in Rajasthan to Sachin Pilot became apparent, Gehlot loyalist MLAs went into a huddle beginning Sunday afternoon to register their opposition. The MLAs started trickling into the Hospital Road residence of Cabinet Minister Shanti Dhariwal where they agreed on submitting their resignation to Assembly Speaker C P Joshi – signalling their protest against Pilot’s name, instead of going to the Congress Legislative Party (CLP) meeting at the CM’s residence.
In the afternoon, during his visit to the Tanot Mata temple in Jaisalmer, Gehlot told reporters: “It has been our tradition that whenever the CLP meets during elections or for the selection of a chief minister, a one-line proposal is passed that we are giving the right (to make the decision) to the Congress president. I believe this will happen today too.”
The decision to empower the high command to take a call essentially meant agreeing to its probable decision to go with Pilot – something unacceptable to Gehlot loyalists, who point out Pilot’s rebellion and are also insecure about their position in the government if Pilot takes over. They want Gehlot to continue as the CM and the next best scenario is for someone else from their camp to become the CM. Neither of these options, however, sit well with the Pilot camp which has been biding its time.
Post the meeting at Dhariwal’s residence, Independent MLA and Gehlot advisor Sanyam Lodha said, “The next CM should be from among the 102 of us who were in Fairmont Hotel (in Jaipur) and Suryagarh (resort in Jaisalmer, during the 2020 political crisis). It is our unanimous decision that none among those who conspired with the BJP to commit gaddari (traitor) and topple the government can be the CM.”
The small, one-page resignation letter addressed to C P Joshi reads that the concerned MLA is “wilfully” resigning from Vidhan Sabha and that the resignation should be accepted “without delay”. Deputy Leader of Opposition Rajendra Rathore claimed that the resignation letters were not in the correct format as per rules.
Cabinet Minister Pratap Singh Khachariyawas said all the MLAs are “very angry”. “Our demand is that Sonia ji and Rahul ji are our leaders, they should listen to our dil ki baat and understand,” he said. “It is the unanimous decision of the MLAs that the high command should listen to us and take a decision. You could have called a (CLP) meeting after the 17th once the (party president) elections got over… CM says that he is our abhibhavak (guardian), so won’t he give importance to MLAs?”
Implying that the rebellion against the high command’s decision wasn’t pre-planned, Khachariywas said that, “I went to take Dhariwal ji (for CLP) but he said that the MLAs are not letting him leave. Around 90 MLAs had gathered there by the time I reached.”
“Democracy is based on sankhya bal (power of numbers). The leader would be one with whom the Rajasthan MLAs are. Over 100 MLAs are on one side and about 10-15 MLAs on the other,” he said.
After submitting resignation letter to Joshi, MLA Babulal Nagar said that, “all the MLAs are unanimous that Ashok Gehlot should first become the CM, after that the MLAs should be consulted and then we will accept the high command’s decision.”
The CLP meet was scheduled to begin at 7 pm on Sunday but was delayed indefinitely, even though about 28 MLAs, including Pilot and some of his loyalists and neutral MLAs, reached the CM residence for the meeting.
Around the same time, Gehlot himself was busy meeting party observers, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, and party state in-charge Ajay Maken, at the Jaipur hotel where they are staying.
Going into the meeting at Dhariwal’s residence, Lodha had said, “If the decision is as per the wishes of the MLAs, then the government will run. But if it is not as per the wishes of the MLAs, then can the government function? Obviously, there will be a threat of the government falling.”
Asked about Sachin Pilot as CM, Cabinet Minister Govind Ram Meghwal had echoed the sentiment among Gehlot MLAs: “This is a feeling (emotional) issue. There is narazgi (resentment) among the MLAs. There were independents who helped us during the political crisis… hence, we will all sit down and discuss (at Dhariwal’s residence),” he said, referring to the 2020 rebellion by Pilot. Meghwal said Gehlot can handle both responsibilities – that of party president and Rajasthan CM. Till late night, parleys were on to ‘resolve’ the crisis.
In Jaisalmer, Gehlot ticked all the right boxes by saying that “new generation” should be given a chance, that he will “brief the next CM” about the budget and that he is ready to relinquish the post of the CM.
In Jaipur, the pitching of tents at Dhariwal’s residence, the printed resignation receipts, Gehlot engaging Kharge and Maken beyond the 7 pm CLP meet time while MLAs swell at Dhariwal’s residence, and then Khachariywas talking of Dhariwal’s helplessness over the “angry” MLAs – all these events indicate that Gehlot fired from the shoulders of party MLAs while being in the clear himself.
In Jaisalmer, Gehlot said that, “I have been doing politics for 50 years (started from) NSUI. For forty years, I have been in one or other post, constitutional posts, whether it’s MP, three-time Union Minister, three-time PCC president, three-time AICC General Secretary and three-time chief minister. What more can a person get? It is on my mind that the new generation should get a chance. Everyone should come together to give leadership to the country.”
Asked about policies on sports and for the youth in the next Budget, the CM said, “I will brief the person who becomes the next chief minister about your thoughts, (tell him) to focus on the youth and students in the Budget.”
“I told the high command back in August that winning the next election is very important for the Congress. If the Congress wins (in Rajasthan), then the Congress will start winning all states once again and the party will be strengthened. I said this back in August. The news about me becoming the (Congress) president has been circulating now but even before that, I told Sonia ji and our general secretary in-charge Maken ji. Nobody knew about this till now, for the first time I am telling you,” he said.
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He added, “I told them earlier that the next elections should be fought under the leadership of a person who will increase the chances of winning the elections. Be it me or someone else, select him and form the government. It is necessary that we win the elections. I said this on August 9.”
In an interview to The Indian Express on Thursday, the CM said that though the “one person, one post” principle in the party’s Udaipur Declaration did not apply to party positions for which elections are held, a person holding two posts would not be able to “do justice to the Congress presidency”.