New Delhi: The reshuffle in the Congress-led Rajasthan government cabinet Sunday comes almost sixteen months after a public fallout between Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his then deputy Sachin Pilot.
Fifteen new names were inducted into the Rajasthan cabinet on 21 November, of which five are loyalists of Pilot. But whether the crisis in the Rajasthan government and the Congress’ state unit has been defused is an open question.
Pilot himself was clear on the matter. “I wonder why there is so much talk about factionalism within the Congress. We are together. We fought the elections together and formed the government together. We have only one faction in the Congress,” he said while addressing the press after the reshuffle was announced.
Pilot further commended the fact that the new cabinet, with four ministers from the Dalit community, three ministers from the ST community, and three women ministers was “inclusive” and said that it had the “stamp of Priyanka Gandhi”.
The five Pilot loyalists in the cabinet
Of the new names inducted into the cabinet, five were a part of a group of 18 loyalist MLAs who stood by Sachin Pilot in July 2020 when the then deputy chief minister rebelled against Gehlot, plunging the state into a month-long political crisis.
They are Hemaram Choudhary, Vishvendra Singh, Ramesh Meena, Brijendra Singh Ola, and Murari Lal Meena. Of these, Murari Lal and Ola have been made ministers of state, while the other three have been given cabinet berths.
Vishvendra Singh and Ramesh Meena were ministers in the previous cabinet too, but were removed along with Pilot during the political crisis.
Similarly, Hemaram Choudhary, who was also a minister, had tendered his resignation from the Assembly at the time, but the same was not accepted.
Last year’s crisis
In July 2020, then deputy CM and also chief of the Congress’ state unit, Sachin Pilot, flew to Haryana with 18 other Congress MLAs from Rajasthan. Pilot claimed the post of chief minister, denied to him after the state elections in 2018, stating that he had the support of at least 30 MLAs in the 200-member assembly. The Congress, at the time, had 108 seats in the assembly.
Meanwhile, CM Gehlot, while calling on party leaders Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi to handle the situation, asserted that the BJP was trying to destabilise his government.
At the time, speculations of Pilot moving to the BJP with his MLAs were also rife. However, the BJP, which had 71 MLAs in the Assembly, would still need to muster more numbers in the floor of the House to form a government even if the 19 Congress MLAs (including Pilot) changed sides.
Talk of Pilot’s move to the BJP were further fuelled by a similar crisis in Madhya Pradesh earlier that year, which saw veteran Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia jump ship to the BJP along with loyalist MLAs, following a fallout with CM Kamal Nath. Scindia, in fact, also met Pilot at the latter’s Delhi residence during this time.
Throughout the crisis, however, Pilot had vehemently maintained that he was not in talks with the BJP. Similarly, the BJP had also publicly distanced itself from the crisis multiple times.
Thereafter, following multiple rounds of meetings between the Congress’ national leadership, Gehlot and Pilot, the latter was removed from both his posts. A new president for the Rajasthan state Congress—Govind Singh Dotasra, who was health minister at the time— was appointed. This is when Vishvendra Singh and Ramesh Meena were also sacked by the party, along with the state presidents of the Rajasthan Youth Congress and the Rajasthan Congress Seva Dal, Mukesh Bhakar and Rakesh Pareek, who were also close to Pilot.
However, the Congress leadership found a temporary resolution to the problem in August that year, just a few days before a session of the Assembly was to commence. Gehlot and Pilot reunited publicly after the latter met Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi. However, internally, a cold war of sorts continued, with Pilot not being reinstated to his earlier positions in both the government and the party.
The Gehlot government won the vote of no-confidence in the assembly session that followed.
What next for Sachin Pilot?
While some of his loyalists have been inducted into the cabinet, Sachin Pilot still holds no formal post in the party or the government. The fact that Dotasra, who was seen as a temporary president when he was appointed, has now been dropped from the cabinet on the basis of a “one person, one post” principle, means that Pilot is unlikely to get back the chair of state president.
Sources in the party say that while Pilot had tried to negotiate for six ministers in the cabinet, he himself did not want to work with or under Gehlot.
Party sources also confirm that Pilot was offered the role of AICC general secretary in-charge for a state, but has allegedly refused the same.
Will Pilot now try to settle into a national role for the Congress, while also keeping his finger in the Rajasthan pie? That remains an important question for the Congress to settle ahead of the 2023 elections in the state.
(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)