One state done, two to go. That was the message from the Congress Thursday midnight as it grappled with a crisis over the tussle between the young and the old guard of the party, especially in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh on its return to the Hindi heartland.
Late at night, 72-year-old Kamal Nath was declared the party choice for Chief Minister at a meeting of Congress legislators in Bhopal. Jyotiraditya Scindia, the rival claimant, seconded his name at the meeting where the announcement was made. Kamal Nath will call on Governor Anandiben Patel Friday to formally stake claim to government formation.
But there was no word on who would head the party governments in Jaipur and Raipur with rival camps within staking claim to power.
Around 11 pm, Congress president Rahul Gandhi was still holding talks — for the second time in the day — with Rajasthan veteran Ashok Gehlot and state unit president Sachin Pilot. Both were vying for the post of the Chief Minister.
Rahul test, Cong worry
Delay in naming the CM after poll results is not unexpected. But Rahul Gandhi’s dilemma is his first test of his crisis management skills. Telling workers to choose is mere optics, he is the one who needs to take a call on what is important for the party after its first success in a long time: experience (read his father’s friends) or the future (Pilot and Scindia). There are strong arguments on either side, but the next CM has his task cut out: start afresh, ensure seats in 2019 and governance beyond.
Sources said Pilot let Gandhi know that he had worked very hard in the last five years and justice should, therefore, be done. Gehlot who was returning to Jaipur after day-long deliberations had reached the Delhi airport when he was told to return to the Gandhi home.
Meanwhile, Congress contenders for the top job in Chhattisgarh — T S Singh Deo, Bhupesh Baghel, Tamradhwaj Sahu and Charan Das Mahant — were said to be leaving for New Delhi for talks Friday.
In Bhopal, soon after he was named CM-designate, Kamal Nath thanked Scindia and said he was happy because he had worked with his father, the late Madhavrao Scindia. “For me, this post is a milestone… We shall work together to fulfil promises made in our manifesto. I had no demands. I have worked all my life without hankering for any post. I have worked with Sanjay Gandhi, Indiraji, Rajivji and now Rahul Gandhi,” he said.
Earlier, before Nath and Scindia flew to Bhopal, Gandhi put out a photograph with the two leaders and a caption quoting Leo Tolstoy: “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”
But it was Rajasthan that was giving the Congress a headache. Gandhi was joined by his mother Sonia Gandhi and sister Priyanka Vadra as Gehlot and Pilot met him individually in the morning. Earlier, AICC general secretary in charge of the state Avinash Pande and AICC observer K C Venugopal had conveyed the views of the newly-elected MLAs to Gandhi.
Hopes that a meeting of the Congress legislature party would be held in Jaipur by evening to announce the new leader faded as the day progressed. Pilot refused to back down and clear the way for Gehlot.
“He has worked for five years. If Kamal Nath, who was appointed just six months ago, can claim to be the leader of that state… Pilot worked for five years. Why was Gehlot not appointed PCC president in 2013? He was not made CLP leader either after the last defeat… because people did not want to see his face… Sachin was sent there because they wanted a change of face… now Sachin has become dispensable,” one of the young leaders of the Congress who did not wish to be named told The Indian Express.
Earlier, Gandhi told reporters at Parliament House: “Yes, you will see a chief minister soon. We are checking, taking inputs from different people in the party. We are taking inputs from MLAs and workers. We are getting a comprehensive answer to what the Congress party and others feel.”