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Indira to Rahul — Why every Gandhi loves Ashok Gehlot, the perfect Congressman

Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot, unlike his deputy Sachin Pilot, played down Kota infant deaths. Instead, he preferred to praise Priyanka Gandhi’s comments on Yogi.

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Two recent developments are typical of what makes a successful Congressman these days. One, where three-time Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot echoed Priyanka Gandhi’s attack on Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath, calling it a game-changer. And the second, when he said children’s deaths are commonplace in Kota, in reference to the 110-plus deaths in the government-run JK Lon hospital. This raised the hackles of not only outspoken celebrities Anurag Kashyap and Swara Bhasker, but also Gehlot’s colleague, the young Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot.

That is why the 68-year-old Gehlot is the perfect Congressman, a cipher in a Gandhi topi, who is good for the Gandhis, but not so good as an articulate, national party leader. Gehlot has other qualities that endear him to the Gandhis — he is popular, but not enough to challenge the first family, he harbours no ambition greater than to make a politician out of his son (Vaibhav, who lost the 2019 Lok Sabha election from Jodhpur to Gajendra Singh Shekhawat). Although Ashok Gehlot is a five-time MP, he has never emerged as a leader beyond his state, unlike Madhya Pradesh CM Kamal Nath and Punjab CM Amarinder Singh.

Also read: Rahul Gandhi the only alternative to Narendra Modi, says Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot

Right time, right place

What Gehlot has is unparalleled access to Ahmed Patel, as well as equal inroads to all three Gandhis — Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka. Trusted completely by the family, unlike Kamal Nath and Amarinder Singh, he is perhaps the only member of the old guard who is relied upon by Rahul Gandhi. It could be his humble demeanour, his non-public school background and his son-of-the-soil appearance, embellished with a hairstyle that seems as if it has been permanently caught in a cyclone, and a way of speaking that echoes actor Johnny Lever. Or it could be Gehlot’s tremendous hold on the party subaltern in Rajasthan. He is popular with the party cadres. As Congress national spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill, says: “He has the art of taking everyone along, across all age brackets and ensure an effective working environment. He is also available for his cadres 24X7 to listen to their problems,which is what makes him special for the organisation.”

It was this skill that came to the forefront in Gujarat in 2017, when the Congress managed to give the BJP a tough fight, winning 77 seats in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, now the Home Minister. Gehlot replaced Gurudas Kamat as head of the state election campaign. He was largely by Rahul Gandhi’s side during the 2019 Lok Sabha election, and remains one of the few in the country and party who believe he is the best bet against the BJP juggernaut. Even as late as December 2019, he said the Gandhis were the sole “cementing force” in the Congress.

Gehlot, who has served as a minister in both Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi ministries, is a politician very much in the mould of Rahul Gandhi’s other low-key favourites: Madhusudan Mistry, Tarun Gogoi, Ajay Maken, and C.P. Joshi. He is also at the right time, at the right place — whether it was becoming chief minister of Rajasthan in 2008 when C.P. Joshi lost by a single vote, or in 2018, when the party was clearly rejuvenated in the state by Sachin Pilot but just short of a majority. Even when Rahul Gandhi tweeted a picture of himself with Gehlot and Pilot, it had a hint of a power struggle. The caption said it all: The united colours of Rajasthan.

Also read: Why Ashok Gehlot pushing for his son to be Rajasthan cricket chief has split Congress

A loyalist

Senior journalist Radhika Ramaseshan believes Ashok Gehlot’s USP is that he doesn’t belong to a dominant caste in Rajasthan like the Jats, Rajputs, Gujjars and Meenas that are at each other’s throats permanently. “He’s from a fairly insignificant backward caste (Mali) that is not empowered to call the shots in an election. Therefore, in a caste-riven polity, he is perceived as harmless. Which is not to detract from his guile, his organisational skills and ability to fend off detractors. These were qualities that struck Indira Gandhi who mentored him.”

He met her during his work for refugees during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. She was impressed enough with the young Gehlot to get him to Delhi. Is it any wonder that he has remained a family loyalist even going so far as to recently suggest that she declared Emergency only to save the nation?

The sycophantic Congressman is a very particular character — unencumbered by embarrassment that other lesser mortals feel at having to profess fealty at regular intervals in order to remain relevant.

The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.

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  1. Even on those rare occasions of being sober, Gehlot talks like a drunkard. Fumbling, incoherent and mostly irrelevant. Ideal wishy washy sycophant for the fake Gandhis

  2. In Congress being a dynasty family business , loyalty / chamachagiri to Gandhi family triumphs over nation

  3. A below-beltish attack.
    Also, many confusing points, for example: Gehlot is popular; and Pilot rejuvenated the party – how can both be true?

  4. Nehru Gandhi dynasty loves such chamchas, instead one who works for national interest. They ate the one collect funds by unspecified ways for family and party.

  5. Why do you call him a perfect Congress man. For selfish motive he worships one family instead of taking care of his state being experienced CM. If so many infants died in government hospitals, instead of blaming previous administration which was there for only five years but congress ruled most in Rajasthan and most of Indian states.
    If one makes mistake in serving nation and citizens can be excused, if honestly accepting and correcting, but one worships one family than nothing but selfish. He was the one started free medicine distribution to poor at tax payers expense so what happened?

  6. It is time for Gehlot to go. He is going senile with comparison of death numbers. He is callous to put it charitably

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