Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has donned a new avatar: more vocal and aggressive in dealing with opponents, and at times, witty too. Even those who know Gehlot from his early days in politics—in the 1970s—say that they have never witnessed the veteran Congress leader’s current stance.
This is Gehlot’s third term as Rajasthan chief minister, but the leader never displayed these “traits” in the previous two tenures—1998-2003 and 2008-2013.
There is no doubt that Gehlot, who is often called ‘Marwar ka Gandhi’ by many, especially in western parts of Rajasthan, is a changed politician. He has turned out to be an affable leader who seems to be busy in his public positioning too.
Gehlot, apparently, picked up these new skills while he was serving as Congress general secretary in-charge of Gujarat, in the run up to the 2017 assembly election in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state. After Gujarat polls, he was working as AICC general secretary (organisation) from March 2018 to December 2018, before he became Rajasthan CM. It was because of Gehlot’s political astuteness that the Congress was able to give the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a close fight in Gujarat.
Cutting across party lines, Gehlot’s political skills were recognised nationally after the Gujarat assembly election, during which, he also honed his skills on handling the national media.
Political experts haven’t missed this perceptible change in the soft-spoken leader who has suddenly become assertive.
Among all regional leaders of the Congress, Gehlot is leading from the front in criticising the Modi government at the Centre.
Gehlot’s aggressive political posturing has also been on display during the meetings on coronavirus with PM Modi. The Rajasthan CM has constantly attacked the Modi government for its poor handling of economy. Gehlot is also among the few CMs who demanded special financial assistance for the states and asked the Centre to run trains for labourers stranded in different parts of India.
The Congress veteran has also shown his crisis management skills during the ongoing health emergency. Rajasthan has managed to achieve a recovery rate of over 75 per cent, the highest in India.
Gehlot isn’t just facing the corona ‘test’. One does not need to be an expert to understand the factionalism and dissensions that keep cropping up in the Congress’ state unit. The Rajasthan CM has always been a canny politician; he has so far been able to do a good balancing act and keep the Congress in power in the state.
Anchoring his govt
Political experts as well as his opponents agree that Gehlot, ‘mildly put’, is a very clever politician, capable of outsmarting his detractors in a manner that they don’t even understand.
To pre-empt any move by the BJP to destabilise his government in the state before the Rajya Sabha polls on 19 June, and to keep disgruntled MLAs in his fold, Gehlot resorted to ‘resort politics’ and took all Congress MLAs, independent legislators and other supporters to a resort near Jaipur. He made them sit and talk, resolve grievances, enjoy movies, play football and what not, successfully sending the message to the BJP that the Congress was united.
Gehlot grabbed national headlines by alleging that the BJP was trying to destabilise his government in the state.
No more camera shy
Gehlot, who is usually shy of TV appearances and newspaper interviews, is now making himself heard on all media platforms.
He has been vocal on social media platforms too, including Twitter and Facebook. And Gehlot’s posts aren’t restricted to matters in Rajasthan. He tweets on national issues, including that of economy, and sometimes, on sports too. He takes on BJP and sometimes even PM Modi with data, questions, and wit.
Govt needs to take urgent steps to revive the economy and give money in people's hands so that demand increases & economic activities gain pace. https://t.co/qXCQnB1sPW
— Ashok Gehlot (@ashokgehlot51) June 13, 2020
Do these changes hint at a bigger role for Gehlot in 2024 Lok Sabha polls? Experts predict that considering his political craft, leadership qualities and his rapport with opposition leaders, he may be a right choice for the Congress to take on the BJP.
Although nothing is permanent in politics, the way Gehlot is being positioned by the Congress, it certainly seems he is up for a bigger role in the party.
Anil Sharma is a senior journalist in Jaipur. His Twitter handle is @anilsharma45. Views are personal.