As the Congress shows all signs of imploding following the Lok Sabha poll debacle, Rajasthan is in the eye of a storm for scoring a shocking duck for the party in the Lok Sabha polls. In focus are Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot, who had been handpicked by party President Rahul Gandhi as Rajasthan Congress president and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who Gandhi recently blamed as one of the two Congress Chief Ministers who focused on the election of their sons when they should have been campaigning for the party.
The one thing going in Gehlot’s favour is that he is a battle-scarred veteran.
Pilot first. He took the charge in Rajasthan when the Congress was down to 21 seats in the state assembly. He worked with Congress cadre as a grassroots leader to build the party again. The organisational structure was overhauled and workers were instilled with confidence which brought magical results and Congress hit the 100-seat mark which had never happened under Gehlot’s leadership.
Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee secretary Sushil Asopa said state unit chief Sachin Pilot should have been made chief minister instead of Ashok Gehlot.
In a Facebook post, PCC secretary Sushil Asopa batted for Pilot. “Wherever you go in Rajasthan, you hear one voice – Congress. The results of the Lok Sabha elections would have been different had the party made Sachin Pilot chief minister as a reward for his hard work for over five years,” he wrote.
“The public says it was because of Pilot’s hard work of over five years that a favourable atmosphere for the party was created and the party’s MLA candidates won,” he said, adding the youth thought that the younger leader will get the chance to be CM.
That brings the focus back on Pilot — the man who travelled thousands of kilometres during the campaign as he raised farmers’ issues, connected with regular voters, spoke of employment generation and ultimately delivered the state to the party.
The party also won six of the eight by-elections held in the state since 2013. In fact, the party, under Pilot’s leadership made steady gains since 2013, after it had been voted out.
Gehlot, Chief Minister for the third time, has been the state leader, but the party has been a witness to organisational infighting under his watch. The tussle now is between the Gehlot and the Pilot camps.
In the 1998 Assembly elections, the Congress party won 150 seats as the election was fought projecting Jat leader Parasram Maderna as the CM face. Eventually, there were demands from the Jat community that Rajasthan should get a chief minister from its ranks. However, Gehlot ended up getting the job.
It was a close fight between Maderna and Gehlot with former being a Jat leader enjoying position of Leader of Opposition in the outgoing assembly while Gehlot was the state Congress president, who enjoyed the trust of the Congress high command. Gehlot got the nod to be Chief Minister and the Jat community was left fuming.
The result: the Congress paid a big price as it lost the next 2003 assembly elections, winning just 57 seats under Gehlot’s leadership while the BJP formed the government.
Again in the run-up to the 2008 Assembly elections, it was a close tussle between Congress veteran C.P. Joshi and Gehlot. Joshi, being state Congress president, was a strong contender for the post but lost the elections by one vote. Gehlot again was made the Chief Minister. Jat leaders like the then Union minister Sis Ram Ola, former Rajasthan Speaker Maderna and newly elected MLA Sonaram openly raised the demand for a Jat chief minister once again, but to no avail.
Amid protests by the Jat community and after intense consultations with the Congress MLAs, party leaders forwarded their report to the then party president Sonia Gandhi, who declared Gehlot as the chief minister again.
In 2008, Congress party won 96 seats and Gehlot formed the government with the support of six Bahujan Samaj Party MLAs and a few independents. Parasram Maderna’s son Mahipal Maderna was made the water resources minister in the Gehlot cabinet.
Thereafter, in 2013 assembly election, BJP won 163 seats while Congress was limited to 21 seats. The Congress had contested these elections under Gehlot’s leadership and the consequences were evident.