Jaipur: A rebellion by more than 90 loyalist MLAs may cost Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot his shot at the Congress chief’s post. Though he has apologised for the situation, the Gandhis are reportedly upset with him for “humiliating” the Congress.
Ashok Gehlot had apologised to Central observer Mallikarjun Kharge who was in Jaipur yesterday for the Legislature Party meet, sources said. Calling the parallel meeting of the MLAs and their subsequent rebellion a “mistake”, Mr Gehlot had said it “should not have happened”, sources said. He had also said he has nothing to do with it.
According to sources, Mr Kharge has expressed the opinion that despite Mr Gehlot’s claims of non-involvement, such a rebellion could not have happened without his consent.
Mr Gehlot is to file nomination for the October 17 Congress president election tomorrow. As the Rajasthan crisis peaked, another potential candidate, Kamal Nath, arrived in Delhi and met Sonia Gandhi. “I have no interest in (Congress) President post. I’m only here for Navratri wishes,” Mr Nath was quoted as saying by news agency ANI, Sources say he may mediate in the Rajasthan crisis.
Yesterday, MLAs supporting Mr Gehlot threatened mass resignation, making it clear that if he is elected Congress president, they will not accept his bitter rival Sachin Pilot as Rajasthan Chief Minister. They skipped a party meeting yesterday, and refused to talk to Ajay Maken and Mallikarjun Kharge, who had asked to meet with them one-on-one.
Stood up by the MLAs, Ajay Maken and Mallikarjun Kharge headed back to Delhi. Sources accused Team Gehlot of humiliating the central leaders.
Flagging the MLAs’ demand that any meeting on a new Chief Minister be held only after the next Congress president is elected, Mr Maken said, “It would be conflict of interest as the resolution would be passed when Ashok Gehlot may already be party chief. So, he empowers himself to decide on his own successor in Rajasthan.”
Mr Maken slammed the show of defiance, terming it “indiscipline”. The central leaders, it is learnt, feel “upset and humiliated”. The developments appear to indicate that the Gandhis are losing their grip over the party. Some in the party believe the leaders underestimated Mr Gehlot’s sway and also handled the Rajasthan transition poorly.
Mr Gehlot had been reluctant to leave Rajasthan and take on the national role, even suggesting to the Gandhis that he could handle both and should not have to give up the Chief Minister’s job. But Rahul Gandhi publicly slighted him on the double role demand, asserting that the party would stick to a “one person, one role” policy.
Mr Gehlot backed off, seemingly reconciled to his new role, but it was clear he was not about to hand over Rajasthan to his rival Sachin Pilot on a platter. Though he has denied any role in Sunday’s revolt, few believe that Congress MLAs in Rajasthan would take such a big step without blessing.
Sachin Pilot, whose rebellion in 2020 almost brought Mr Gehlot’s government to the brink, has 20 MLAs on his side. For the second time, he has been publicly “exposed” as without enough support compared to Mr Gehlot.