As BJP moves a no-trust vote today in a reversal of stand, both Gehlot and Pilot have no option but to stick together longer
The Congress high command may claim credit for staving off a crisis in its Rajasthan unit, saving the State Government and bridging the gap between old-timer Ashok Gehlot and new-found deliverer Sachin Pilot but how long can the twain meet? For all the optics of a family reunion, each side is claiming it has had its way with the central leadership. And there is yet no clarity on what the Chief Minister has bargained for and what his deputy, whom he had fired, has been promised as the latter returned to his karmabhoomi and not Delhi where he was speculated to have been assigned a national role. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati has rightly predicted an uneasy truce and turmoil ahead, obviously upset that the Supreme Court didn’t stop six of her MLAs, who merged with the Congress at Gehlot’s behest last year, from voting in the no-confidence motion. Now that the wounds have been bandaged if not healed, Gehlot is expected to sail through even with a slender majority. The glue better not become unstuck as the BJP is now forcing a floor test and will be breathing down heavily. This is contrary to its earlier hands-off stance, following State leader Vasundhara Raje’s reluctance to share the spotlight with a new entrant that Pilot was assumed to be before his ghar wapasi. The Congress has no option but to stick together. Yet the public posturing by both Gehlot and Pilot has not been exactly reconciliatory but combative. This explains why Central party emissaries have posted themselves in Jaipur to keep the lid on trouble and meet individual legislators. Gehlot has undoubtedly the majority legislators on his side and held off the predatory instincts of the BJP, both of which guaranteed him continuity as a Chief Minister. But the Gandhis are clearly not happy about him running a low-brow campaign against his challenger, calling him “useless”, a “destabiliser” and an “English-speaking, handsome face.” In contrast, Pilot has been restrained but firm about his protest. Gehlot didn’t want Pilot to return to Rajasthan at all but was told that the latter needed to be given space, considering his efforts in reviving the party at the grassroots, consolidating votebases and showing results. Besides, the party could not afford to lose another young, doer politician and suffer another Jyotiraditya Scindia-like jolt because of ego battles. With the young bleeding out, the party wouldn’t have a future at all. Certainly not in Rajasthan either. That explains why Gehlot asked his loyalists, fed on a diet of Pilot being an unprincipled rebel, to “forget, forgive and move on.” But in the same breath, he emphasised how his MLAs were “naturally upset” by the imposed truce. Then he claimed the high moral ground, asking them to be tolerant for the sake of “serving the nation” and “saving democracy.” That he is stoking his group behind the scenes is evident from the fact that his MLAs were volubly critical about the high command’s endorsement of Pilot. The rumblings will continue till Gehlot gets clarity on the extent to which he may have to eat humble pie. Or not. Not only did he sack Pilot from the twin posts of deputy Chief Minister and State party chief for conspiracy to topple him with the BJP’s help, he also dropped Pilot’s men from his Cabinet and party posts. Even now, Gehlot is herding his loyalists at a Jaipur hotel till the trust vote is done and hasn’t publicly asked the 18 pro-Pilot MLAs to join. Of course, he met Pilot cordially at the CLP meeting, called him apna, but made it clear he could win the confidence vote without the now-returned MLAs. There is a trust deficit still.
Pilot, too, has claimed the high ground, arguing ideological differences should not be seen as personal vendetta and that dissent is a right of any legislator, senior or junior. He has been careful enough to maintain that he is ready to work and not hankering for any post but just wants to be given a listen. He has crafted the right moves. Despite being a part of the charmed Lutyens’ circle, he lived down his entitlements and education, moved to Rajasthan, picked up dialects and worked the ground assiduously. He is conscious of his caste endowments, the Gujjar votebank. But while that is a traditional strength, he has played it down and focussed instead on strengthening administration and the organisation. Yes, he is the right package for a national role no doubt, with a decided appeal among the youth. But he has chosen to go back to the roots, without being clannish, showing that he was not averse to taking up the toughest challenge. While the party was adrift with Gehlot just coasting along, Pilot did get it back to power in the 2018 Assembly elections. Then, too, Gehlot had bargained hard, insidiously threatening a split if not made Chief Minister. Although not allowed to operate autonomously in governance, Pilot strengthened the party base while ignoring the Lok Sabha elections which Gehlot wanted to use to shore up his strengths. We know how that turned out to be, a complete blank. Subsequently, Pilot worked to ensure that the Congress won the bypolls to local bodies despite the Modi wave. But how far he scores in the pending municipal elections and what he gets in an expected Cabinet reshuffle will decide where he goes next. The BJP is not giving up just yet. And by the looks of it, Gehlot may not stop the niggles.
Friday, 14 August 2020 | Pioneer