The Congress party put up a show of unity in its trouble-ridden Rajasthan unit as Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his former deputy Sachin Pilot addressed a joint press conference on Tuesday. The leaders of the two warring factions made a rare appearance together in Jaipur alongside All India Congress Committee in-charge of Organisation, KC Venugopal, who was visiting the state to review the preparations for the Bharat Jodo Yatra which is scheduled to enter Rajasthan three days from now.
“This is the Rajasthan Congress,” declared Venugopal as he held up the hands of both leaders at the press conference, a bid to show that everything was alright between the two leaders. “Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot have assured that the yatra (Rajasthan phase) will be one of the most successful in the country. I am also sure that Rajasthan will also be the number one state,” Venugopal added.
Behind the ‘show’ of unity
The display of camaraderie by the two top Congress leaders came after a stern message from the party’s high command, warning party leaders against making any further controversial statements in public or face action. The Indian Express reports that Venugopal, at the two-hour-long meeting with party leaders in Jaipur has conveyed that ministers making unwarranted remarks may well be dropped from the council of ministers. There was a special mention that the instructions “applied to everyone”.
Rajasthan, where elections are due a year from now, is one of the last-remaining Congress bastions. A lingering power tussle between Gehlot and Pilot, with the former even referring to his former deputy as a “traitor” who would never be acceptable as CM, has caused much embarrassment and potential damage to the party.
The Congress is hoping that Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, which is set to enter the state on December 4, will set the tone for its poll campaign in the state and re-brand its image among voters. The attempt at truce, however, seems limited to making the Yatra a success. The BJP, which has been watching the developments unfold from the sidelines, has termed the show of unity a farce.
“It was assured to the people of the state that all is well in the Congress but I believe this is just a political break for the time being, and people of the state will get to hear the same things and words again like ‘nakara’, ‘nikamma’ and ‘gaddar’,” BJP MLA and spokesperson Ram Lal Sharma said.
Between a rock and a hard place
The BJP leader’s suggestion may not be entirely off the mark. But Congress isn’t actually living in denial — not by a long shot. The party has not tried to deny that a trouble exists within its top ranks in the state unit. Not that it had much of an option given the statements made by Gehlot and Pilot targetting each other in the media and elsewhere. Assuming that the party was taking an ostrich-like approach and hoping for trouble to tide away on its own may not hold entirely true.
For newly-appointed Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, the tightrope walk could be harder than one would imagine. Gehlot has made it evident with the rebellion by his supporters that he commands the backing of a majority of the party MLAs. On the other hand, Pilot and his supporters, who hold sway in a majority of the assembly seats, have made it abundantly clear to the leadership that going into polls without Pilot as the party’s face will have adverse consequences.
While the Congress may claim to have brokered a truce between the two leaders, the larger battle may be fought only after the Bharat Jodo Yatra dust settles.
Doomed if you do, doomed if you don’t?
More than a tightrope walk for Kharge. After its misadventure in Punjab, the Congress president would like to tread cautiously. Effecting any last-minute leadership change