New Delhi: High drama has been unfolding in Rajasthan Congress, the party ruling the state, and which desperately needs to hold on to the big state to stay relevant against the juggernaut of the BJP.
Little did the Congress high command fathom that elections to the top post of the president, an exercise that was supposed to establish the democratic-popular credentials of the party along with keeping the Gandhis in the driving position with the now-proverbial remote control, will become an albatross around its neck.
While Shashi Tharoor and Manish Tiwari too are in the fray for the top party job, sitting Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot is the obvious frontrunner. Gehlot, the quintessential real-politik, is not ready to relinquish power in Rajasthan yet maintain the semblance of allegiance to the Gandhis by becoming the party president.
Hemmed-in by Rahul Gandhi’s insistence on ‘one man, one post’, Gehlot has deftly played the high command into the horns of a dilemma. The Congress quandary can be resolved by a straightforward SWOT (strength-weakness-opportunity-threat) analysis of the two contenders: Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot.
Young: Sachin Pilot is perceived as a young gun, who can reshape Congress as well as Rajasthan politics by infusing invigorating fresh ideas in governance and overall standard of politics.
Charimatic: Sachin Pilot has a certain charisma around him: he was the youngest MP in 2004 Lok Sabha elections when he won Dausa, his father’s seat, at just 26. He is married to the daughter of Jammu and Kashmir’s former chief minister Farooq Abdullah.
Sophisticated, yet connected: Sachin Pilot has studied in extremely reputed institutions, both Indian and abroad, such as Wharton. He was also a journalist with the BBC for some time and also worked with General Motors.
Having enough exposure to new ideas, the man is as comfortable in front of news cameras as on the field among the masses.
After the Congress was routed in 2014, Sachin Pilot chose to leave Delhi and go to Rajasthan to work among the cadre and masses so as to prove his mettle on the ground.
Proven track record: When Congress crumbled like a house of cards both in general as well as Rajasthan state assembly polls in 2013, Sachin Pilot took the reins of the party as state chief. In 2013 assembly polls, Congress under Ashok Gehlot suffered the most ignominious defeat in history: it was reduced to just 21 seats in 200-strong house.
Next elections, in 2018, with Sachin Pilot as PCC chief, Congress hit the halfway mark. The success was largely attributed to Pilot, but the high command dealt him a raw deal, opting for Gehlot as chief minister.
Close to Rahul Gandhi: He has always been considered close to Rahul Gandhi, as part of Rahul’s young brigade. But, this has proved to be a double-edged sword for Sachin Pilot. The erstwhile third Young Turk, Jyotiraditya Scindia, ultimately left the Congress and is now a BJP minister at the Centre.
Arrogant and unconnected: The Ashok Gehlot faction has always attempted to portray Sachin Pilot as an arrogant person, who is not in sync with the grass-roots party workers and organization.
Anti-party activities: The biggest red-mark on Sachin’s report card is his open rebellion against Ashok Gehlot in 2020. Now, Gehlot uses this to accuse Pilot of putting himself above the party and throws the rebellion at the party high command as Sachin’s ploy to topple the government.
In the utter rout in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, where the Congress drew a zero in Rajasthan, Gehlot son Vaibhav also lost. Gehlot accused Pilot of having sabotaged his son’s chances.
Supporting MLAs richer, but less experienced: A report in Mint from 2020 interpreted the two camps in terms of the relative wealth and electoral clout. It was found that Gehlot’s supporting MLAs are less rich than Pilot’s but more experienced and more electorally viable.
Twice CM: The biggest strength of Ashok Gehlot is his experience as two-time chief minister of Rajasthan (First tenure 1998-2003) (Second tenure 2008-2013) and the accompanying hold on administration and ministers. This is his third stint as the chief minister of Rajasthan.
Experience: Ashok Gehlot is a Congress old-timer: he has been in politics for 50 years, with 40 years at some or the other position in the party. He held ministerial responsibilities in the governments of Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao.
Born in a professional wizard family, Gehlot, has massive grass-roots connect and a rustic appeal about himself.
Powerful in party: His sway in the party can be gauged from the very fact that it is his claim at being both the chief minister and the Congress president is at the heart of the latest crisis in Congress. In the recent crisis, over 90 MLAs have brought their weight to bear upon the high command to keep Sachin Pilot out of power at the cost of their political careers.
Advanced age: At over 70 no one considers Gehlot to be the harbinger of the future, either of Rajasthan or the Congress politics in Rajasthan. He is, arguably, in the last leg of his political career. He is seen as the last vestige of the older generation of Rajasthan Congress; represents no-changers.
Factionalism: Determined to not let Sachin Pilot become the chief minister, Ashok Gehlot is accused of having openly encouraged factionalism and partisan politics. While he has kept Pilot at bay, his image too has received a hit or two.
Lacks charisma: Gehlot, though a wily politician, lacks the charisma to mobilise voters in adverse times and his record against the BJP is an evidence of that. The 2018 assembly election was considered to be a successful campaign of Sachin Pilot, but Gehlot was chosen, apart from other things, for stability rather than dynamism.
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