Congress has convened a Rajasthan MLA meeting in Jaipur on Sunday night amid rumours that Ashok Gehlot may eventually make way for Sachin Pilot to become chief minister during his tenure as Congress president. The party headquarters in Delhi has appointed senior leader Mallikarjun Kharge as an observer and state chief Ajay Maken will also be present.
Ashok Gehlot is the front-runner in next month’s election, becoming the first non-Gandhi Congress president in two decades.
Unwilling to lose control of Rajasthan, he hesitated and pushed back, even calling a MLA meeting earlier this week in a show of strength. But after Rahul Gandhi’s clear message, he finally succumbed to the “one man, one office” party rule.
The Hon’ble Congress President has appointed Generals Sh. Mallikarjun Kharge and Sh.Ajay Maken as observers. The AICC Secretary for Rajasthan will be present at the Congress Legislative Party (CLP) meeting of the Rajasthan Legislative Assembly at 7pm on 25th September.
— KC Venugopal (@kcvenugopalmp) September 24, 2022
That means Sachin Pilot, who lost his deputy chief minister post after a failed coup in 2020, could now get the promotion he wanted at the time. Mr. Gallott wanted at least one loyal person to be his stand-in. But that seems unlikely.
Rajasthan will hold polls by the end of next year, just six months ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha election. It is one of two states where Congress takes power on its own – the other being Chhattisgarh.
Given the urgency, things have moved quickly over the past week.
The last time the party’s MLA met in Jaipur was Ashok Gehlot’s power show when Sachin Pilot was out of town for Rahul Gandhi’s “Bharat Jodo Yatra”. When Mr Pilot returned, Mr Gehlot joined Rahul Gandhi’s Yatra.
Sachin Pilot simply said “the top will decide” and Mr Gehlot went to meet the party boss Sonia Gandhi; even asking Rahul Gandhi to retake the post of chief. But Rahul Gandhi insisted on his position that it must be non-Gandhi.
Once Rahul Gandhi told a news conference that he wanted “the commitments made in Udaipur to be respected”, Mr Gallot’s desire for a dual post was a complete failure.
Three years ago, in Udaipur, the state of Rajasthan, the party decided to implement a single-post policy.
For the chieftainship, Ashok Gehlot’s rival is Shashi Tharoor, one of 23 leaders called for election and a full-time president. Another G-23 member, Manish Tewari, also showed interest.
Nominations can be submitted until September 30 for the October 17 ballot. Results will be announced on October 19. More than 9,000 delegates from across India are voters.
This election was last held in 2017, but since no one challenged Rahul Gandhi, no vote was required. The last time a vote was needed was in 2001, when Jitendra Prasad proposed a symbolic fight against Sonia Gandhi. She won with more than 99 percent of the vote and was re-elected — without opposition, of course — until Rahul Gandhi was promoted from vice-chairman to party chairman in 2017.
He resigned in 2019, two months after the party lost another Lok Sabha contest in which PM Narendra Modi won by a larger margin. Sonia Gandhi has served as interim head since then.
Having said that, Rahul Gandhi is clearly still the face of the party. Non-Gandhi could help to undercut accusations of nepotism, while Rahul Gandhi is walking 3,500km from Kanyakumari to Kashmir to support himself and his party ahead of the 2024 election. Rajasthan is a critical pause.