As the Congress prepares its candidate list for the Lok Sabha elections, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is hoping for political launch of his son, Vaibhav Gehlot, currently a state unit general secretary.
Vaibhav’s name is being quietly pushed from multiple Lok Sabha seats, in a bid to imply his popularity. These include Tonk-Sawai Madhopur, which has a good number of Gujjar, Mali and minority votes; Jodhpur, Gehlot’s home turf, where he is an MLA from Sardarpura; and a third place visited by Gehlot over the weekend, Jalore.
Gehlot said in Sirohi, part of the Jalore parliamentary constituency, “I know that Vaibhav’s name is doing the rounds. It was my wish five years ago, when we subsequently lost the elections, that he contest from Jalore-Sirohi. But he couldn’t get a ticket due to some reason… We had campaigned and I had also come to Jalore.”
He went on to clarify that the high command would finally decide, that “we are loyal soldiers of the Congress”. And told people that if Rahul Gandhi picked some other candidate, “then you see Vaibhav Gehlot in him (that candidate)”.
For Gehlot, there won’t be a better time perhaps to launch his son and political heir, who hasn’t held any public office yet. Not only is Gehlot the CM, but he is also one of the most influential leaders in the party, restricted not just to Rajasthan. Sources said Gehlot feels that Vaibhav in the Lok Sabha is a better assertion of the family’s stature than a seat for him in the Vidhan Sabha, for which elections are anyway nearly five years away.
But the first hurdle in Gehlot’s plans appears to be none other than Deputy CM Sachin Pilot. Over the past couple of months, there have been two skirmishes between the two over Vaibhav’s candidature.
On March 5, this discord played out in the open, via press meetings. First, Pilot called an “informal interaction” with mediapersons, but then went on record to say, “It is correct that the Congress party has largely decided — not just for Rajasthan but for across the country — that it will be better if options other than an incumbent Rajya Sabha MP, MLA, or those who have lost elections, or relatives of a politician, are searched. But whoever is in a position of winnability, or is liked by workers… will be our priority.”
The same evening, Gehlot’s office held a press conference. In between targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the CM let slip in, “Had I wanted to give him (Vaibhav) an opportunity, I would have given it 10 years ago. I have always told him I’m the Chief Minister and woh mere khaate mein nahin aata (it’s not up to me).”
Then Gehlot went on to imply that his son would indeed contest: “Woh karyakarta hai, karyakarta kahan ladega woh toh unse puchiye. Aur kahan se ladaiyegi party, unse puchiye (He is a party worker, ask him from where he will contest. And from where the party will field him, ask the party). How can I say? The party high command or the state high command will decide.” Pilot is the Rajasthan Congress chief.
Earlier, in January, Pilot, the son of former Union minister Rajesh Pilot, had taken on nepotism when rumours of Vaibhav contesting Lok Sabha elections first started doing the rounds; Pilot had declared that no one from his family would contest.
Vaibhav is just the latest chapter in the long-standing Gehlot-Pilot feud. The factionalism was on display during the ticket distribution for the Assembly elections, with the first list announced four days after nominations began, and played out in the choice of Chief Minister, and the council of ministers.
Recently, when asked about Gujjar reservation at a press conference, following another agitation by the community, Gehlot and Pilot had kept passing the mic back and forth. Pilot hails from the Gujjar community.