There is a storm cooking up for the Congress in Rajasthan which threatens to steal the attention from Rahul Gandhi’s much-touted Bharat Jodo Yatra that is scheduled to enter the state on December 3. Planned to cover seven districts over 18 days, the Yatra is expected to set the tone for the assembly elections in the state due next year. At the center of this storm — much of which is the Congress’ own doing — is the September 25 rebellion by legislators considered loyal to Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot against the party high command’s purported decision to install Sachin Pilot as his replacement.
However, what actually threatens to damage a rickety Congress in the state, is its own dilemma that has already resulted in two internal rebellions in as many years. The latest round of embarrassment for the Congress came on November 8 when party general secretary in-charge of Rajasthan Ajay Maken wrote to newly-appointed party president Mallikarjun Kharge, offering to step down from his post over the high command’s inaction against the rebel MLAs.
In September this year, when the tussle over the Congress presidential candidate was at its peak, Maken had failed to convene a meeting of MLAs to pass a one-line resolution that would authorise the Congress president to appoint a new leader in Rajasthan.
Notably, Gehlot, who was then seen as the frontrunner for the post of the party chief, had turned down the request to contest the internal elections over his reservations about the party leadership’s plans to install Pilot as his replacement in Rajasthan. Gehlot later issued a public apology for failing to get the resolution passed and opted out of the race for the Congress president after meeting the then interim party chief Sonia Gandhi.
Kharge’s Rajasthan conundrum
The tightrope walk in Rajasthan is perhaps the first major internal challenge that Kharge faces as party president. Replacing Gehlot with Pilot as CM, as the latter claims Rahul had promised him post-elections in 2018, is easier said than done. Gehlot has proven beyond reasonable doubt that he commands the support of a majority of the party legislators in the state. And the Punjab example should serve as a good reminder of how disastrous any big last-minute pre-poll changes can be.
On the other hand, Pilot’s supporters within the Congress have become increasingly vocal over their demand to appoint him as the CM. A constant narrative that one sees being repeated is that Pilot’s popularity and hard work led to the Congress’ return to power in the 2018 elections. As elections approach, the Pilot camp wants him to be projected as the party’s face going into polls. Pilot too has been clear in his approach going forward.
Citing the events that unfolded in September this year, Pilot said that he was still awaiting the party’s decision on the “indiscipline” by rebel leaders who had already responded to the show-cause notices served by the party.
“If indiscipline has been found, notices have been issued and responses were given, there should be a decision on the issue soon. Discipline and laws apply to everyone no matter how big an individual is…It is just not possible that an act that has been found to be indiscipline, and answers sought and given, is not acted upon,” Pilot told reporters on November 2.
Bharat Jodo Yatra: Route and arrangements
The Congress has drawn up elaborate plans to ensure that Rahul’s 18-day march through the state leaves a lasting impact. The Yatra is expected to traverse through include Jhalrapatan in Jhalavad, Ramganj Mandi in Kota to Ladpura, Kota North and Kota South before it enters Keshavraipatan in Boondi and makes its way into Tonk where it will cover Uniyara and Deoli assembly seats. Thereafter, the Yatra will cover Sawai Madhopur, Bamanvaas, Lalsot and make its way into Dausa district where it will cover the Dausa, Lalsot, Sikrai and Bandikui assembly seats. In Alwar, the Yatra is scheduled to go through Alwar Rural, Alwar Ramgarh, Rajgarh and Laxmangarh before it exits the state into Haryana.
There are several programmes big and small that Rahul is expected to address during his Yatra in the state. Rahul’s march will be telecast live on giant-sized LED screens which will be put up across all districts of the state. A total of 500 state yatris who will accompany Rahul during his march in the state have also been identified. Besides them, people cutting across professions from each of the seven districts that the Yatra will cover will also walk alongside the former Congress president.
Tensions ahead of the Yatra
While the Congress leadership hopes that the Yatra leaves an impact that stays with voters for some time to come, putting up a united front appears to be the biggest challenge facing the party in the state. Reports have it that Pilot holds sway in at least five (Tonk, Sawai Madhopur, Boondi, Alwar and Dausa) of the seven districts that Rahul will cover in the Yatra, something that left Gehlot’s supporters bitter, and attempts were made to ensure changes in the route as well. However, that proposal has since been turned down.
That Gehlot and his former deputy Pilot do not see eye to eye has long been an open secret. And the rebellion by Gehlot loyalists has only brought back memories of the failed mutiny attempted by Pilot in 2020. Pilot’s suggestion, that the bonhomie seen between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Gehlot at an event in Rajasthan last month must not be taken lightly, has also laid bare the deep fissures that remain unaddressed by the party in one of its last-remaining bastions.