The change of guard in Punjab, with the Congress replacing Captain Amarinder Singh with Charanjit Singh Channi as chief minister, may have a rippling effect on Rajasthan politics too where another Congress government has been battling factional rivalry.
For a year, chief minister Ashok Gehlot and former deputy CM Sachin Pilot have been at loggerheads. A compromise formula worked out by the party’s central leadership is yet to bring in a thaw in the relationship, with many lawmakers upset about a promised cabinet reshuffle, which is the lynchpin of the compromise formula, taking longer to materialise.
For now, the Pilot camp is chuffed by the Punjab development. “We expect good news soon,” said a Congress leader close to Pilot on condition of anonymity. He added that Pilot has already had meetings with senior Congress leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, over the week and was confident that the party will take an “assertive” decision in the coming weeks.
But political watchers say that the ground situation in Rajasthan is different from Punjab as Gehlot still has control over the party, unlike Amarinder Singh, who lost control over Punjab Congress when Navjot Singh Sidhu was appointed its president. Unlike Punjab, where assembly elections are in March 2022, the state polls in Rajasthan are still more than two years away in December 2023.
“Gehlot is also very close to the Gandhi family,” political analyst Manish Godha pointed out, suggesting that a repeat of Punjab in Rajasthan is unlikely. He, however, warned that the “party leadership will have to work on pacifying the dissidents as time is running out”.
A second senior Congress leader said after Punjab, Rahul Gandhi is expected to focus on Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, where chief minister Bhupesh Baghel may be replaced by health minister T S Singhdeo. He said Pilot met Rahul on Friday evening and had a long discussion, triggering expectations of a cabinet reshuffle and political appointments.
Pilot did not respond to HT’s text messages or calls.
“What the party leadership has done in Punjab has boosted our confidence that changes would happen here too,” said another legislator close to Pilot — the third to talk about imminent change in Rajasthan government.
“The changes are more for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls where the Congress is looking at a three-figure mark,” said the second leader quoted above.
Those considered close to Gehlot said there was a huge difference between Amarinder and Gehlot. “Amarinder wasn’t the choice of Delhi for chief ministership, whereas Gehlot was called to Delhi and announced as the CM. In addition, Gehlot enjoys the support of more than 100 MLAs in the state,” said a state cabinet minister considered close to Gehlot.
Soon after the Punjab development on Saturday, Gehlot’s officer on special duty (OSD) Lokesh Sharma had remarked on microblogging platform Twitter that when a strong person gets forced and an insignificant person gets an ego massage, then nobody can save the crop from getting eaten by the fence itself.
The tweet was seen as a comment on the Congress high command’s handling of the Punjab crisis and sparked controversy, forcing Sharma to resign on Sunday. He, however, claimed that the tweet was not directed at the party high command.
On Sunday morning, Gehlot also defended the party high command and added that those in the party who get upset about losing power should listen to their conscience.
“I personally believe that the Congress president chooses the CM at the risk of inviting displeasure of several leaders who are in the race for chief ministership. However, when the same chief minister is changed, he/she is displeased and holds the decision wrong. One should listen to one’s inner voice in such moments,” Gehlot tweeted.