Two top leaders of Rajasthan Congress, Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot, are vying for the chief minister’s chair in the heartland state.
New Delhi: Its victory in the Hindi heartland has failed to solve a problem that has been stalking the Congress leadership in Rajasthan since before this month’s assembly election: Who will be the chief minister?
The Congress is yet to officially announce a chief minister for any of the three states it wrested from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) this week – Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
But a combination of factors, including 2019 calculations, has made the situation particularly precarious in Rajasthan, where two senior leaders, Pradesh Congress Committee chief Sachin Pilot and former chief minister Ashok Gehlot, are vying for the post.
The Congress has won 99 of the 199 Rajasthan assembly seats for which results have been declared. The death of a candidate seeking election from the remaining one seat led the poll for that constituency to be countermanded.
It is set to form the state government, with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which won six seats, pledging support to the party.
According to a senior Congress leader, the party is tilting towards finalising Gehlot as the chief minister but is facing resistance from a group of leaders and MLAs who support Pilot, a former MP and union minister.
The party leadership, the source said, did not want to take a decision that may trigger in-fighting in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
“Had the party won the election by a comfortable margin, Pilot would have had a greater say,” said the leader. “But as the party has won by a narrow margin, a section of Congress leaders feels that Gehlot, a two-term chief minister, is likely to be a better bet as he is also good in forging alliances, if the need arises.
“He (Gehlot) is more experienced and will be able to lead the party, with the crucial 2019 polls scheduled for next year,” said the senior Congress leader.
Also read: Rajasthan Congress lawmakers authorise Rahul Gandhi to decide on CM candidate
‘Gehlot has experience’
Another senior Congress leader said Gehlot’s organisational skills would also be instrumental in shaping the Rajasthan unit ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.
“Gehlot has experience and he is acceptable to most of the sections,” the leader said. “With barely a few months left for the Lok Sabha elections, if someone less experienced is given the task, it will take more time for him to understand the nuances and get hold of the situation,” the leader added.
Those backing Pilot say he revived the state unit from scratch and kept the flock together, for which he should be rewarded.
From 96 seats in 2008, when it formed the government, the Congress was reduced to 21 in 2013. In the Lok Sabha elections the subsequent year, the party faced a wipeout as the BJP won all 25 seats. The Congress had won 20 of these in 2009. Pilot was made state party chief in January 2014.
“The Congress president has been stressing the fact that there is need for a new leadership to take charge,” said a senior party leader. “Pilot fits the bill. He has worked extremely hard and led the campaign rigorously against the BJP. The party needs to develop new leadership too.”
Also read: Congress leaders upbeat over big Hindi heartland gains in Assembly polls
Pilot, Gehlot in Delhi
Soon after the results were declared Tuesday, both Gehlot and Pilot said a final decision on the chief minister debate would be taken by the party leadership.
On Wednesday, both said that feedback from all the MLAs would be considered before a candidate is picked. The two left Jaipur for Delhi Wednesday night to meet Congress president Rahul Gandhi. According to sources, they will meet Gandhi Thursday morning, which is when a final decision is expected to be taken.
News agency PTI quoted unnamed party leaders as saying that Gandhi had also approached party workers in the three states directly and asked them to name their top choice for chief minister through an internal mobile messaging app.
For the past few months, the Rajasthan Congress has reportedly been plagued by differences between senior party leaders, with the issue of chief ministership said to have split the state unit ahead of the election.
Supporters of Gehlot and Pilot both wanted the party to declare a chief ministerial candidate before election day, but the high-command felt not declaring one would work in its favour.
Ghelot should be graceful and give opportunity to youngster.
Gehlot reduced the party to 21 in 2013, has been voted out on both occasions after completing five year terms. If he was such a fantastic leader, dishing out free medicines to the poor, he should have broken the jinx of incumbents not getting a second term. He appears to have sabotaged this campaign as well. It is inexplicable how the Congress did not win even a hundred seats in an election that was sealed in advance. Sachin Pilot has proved himself in Rajasthan in a way Scindia has not in MP. He deserves to be CM. If Gehlot is blackmailing the high command, he should be put in his place.
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