With two crucial meetings steered by party chief Sonia Gandhi, the Congress has moved a step closer to a change in chief minister in Rajasthan as a possible follow up to the Congress presidential election in October

Sources say that the switch may take place once the current CM Ashok Gehlot, hand-picked by the Congress’ first family, files his nomination for the post of Congress president and wins with the backing of majority.

Gehlot, despite emerging as the front runner, had dug in his heels on the issue of staying Rajasthan CM. There were also signals that he may vacate the chair only if someone of his choice was picked as successor, blocking the chances of ex-Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister and his bête noir Sachin Pilot.

But interim president and the Congress’ final arbiter for several decades, Sonia Gandhi, held two crucial meetings in the last three days to end the Rajasthan tangle and tried to make the passing of the baton to a non-Gandhi family member democratic and ‘bloodless’.

Her meeting with Ashok Gehlot grabbed all the headlines on Wednesday. But according to top sources, prior to spending an hour with Gehlot, she had an equally long meeting with Sachin Pilot.

Sources in Rajasthan and Delhi confirmed that Pilot met Sonia Gandhi prior to flying to Kochi to join Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra and the issue of Rajasthan leadership was on the discussion table.

The final confirmation on the outcome of Sonia Gandhi’s intervention will come from Rahul Gandhi. Sources say that Gehlot may sign on the dotted line on the nomination form by September 26. Interestingly, Sonia Gandhi, to end Gehlot’s reluctance to let go of the CM chair, told him that he may soon be getting “her chair”, according to sources.

After meeting the party boss, Gehlot struck the right tones by saying “he was ready for any responsibility the party gave him.” After an hour-long meeting, the bluster of recent past had diminished. When asked if he would continue to be the Rajasthan CM, Gehlot said, “Party has given me everything. For the last 4-5 decades, I have been in various party positions. No post is important to me. What is important for me is how I will handle whatever responsibility is given to me. Wherever the workers say I will do, if they ask me to file a nomination, I will do it.”

Gehlot later in the day flew to Kerala to join Rahul Gandhi in the Bharat Jodo Yatra. Sources close to Gehlot say that he had planned to convince Rahul Gandhi one more time to return as Congress president.

GEHLOT’S DILEMMA: TURF PROTECTION

For Gehlot, it’s been hard to know which bridge to cross and which to burn. The Rajasthan CM, facing a dilemma, wanted to write a way out that ticks all the boxes that suits his politics.

After the latest interventions, if he decides to flow with the tide, he may be rubbing shoulders with the greats in the Congress pantheon, like Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and many more.

The name plate outside his office or his visiting card may read – Ashok Gehlot , President- Indian National Congress. For the last two and half decades, no one in Congress has even remotely dreamt of being where Gehlot could be in the near future. That’s especially because never before at any moment in Congress history have there been not one but three Gandhis-Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka, all active in politics, all eligible to be party president but reluctant to do that.

Of course, the natural corollary of flowing with the tide for Ashok Gehlot means partially burning bridges with Rajasthan. That’s because the most likely inheritor, Sachin Pilot, may not be generous in allowing him a toehold in the state once he leaves for Delhi.

But the power drive Gehlot had employed after he was told he could be Sonia Gandhi’s successor could be be stated as follows: With the backing of Congress’ first family he was set to be the next Congress president, but was reluctant to vacate Rajasthan CM post, was plotting a route to administer Rajasthan through a proxy after scuttling the chances of Pilot taking the throne.

For three days, before heading to Delhi and Kochi, Gehlot and his camp added to the jitters of party leadership. He displayed a new born kinship to senior party leader and Rajasthan Assembly Speaker CP Joshi. On Sunday, Gehlot invited Joshi to the inauguration of the renovated Barkatullah Khan Stadium on his home turf, Jodhpur.

With two crucial meetings steered by party chief Sonia Gandhi, the Congress has moved a step closer to a change in chief minister in Rajasthan as a possible follow up to the Congress presidential election in October.

Congress crisis: The buck stops with Sonia Gandhi | OPINION

Sources say that the switch may take place once the current CM Ashok Gehlot, hand-picked by the Congress’ first family, files his nomination for the post of Congress president and wins with the backing of majority.

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Gehlot, despite emerging as the front runner, had dug in his heels on the issue of staying Rajasthan CM. There were also signals that he may vacate the chair only if someone of his choice was picked as successor, blocking the chances of ex-Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister and his bête noir Sachin Pilot.

But interim president and the Congress’ final arbiter for several decades, Sonia Gandhi, held two crucial meetings in the last three days to end the Rajasthan tangle and tried to make the passing of the baton to a non-Gandhi family member democratic and ‘bloodless’.

Her meeting with Ashok Gehlot grabbed all the headlines on Wednesday. But according to top sources, prior to spending an hour with Gehlot, she had an equally long meeting with Sachin Pilot.

Sources in Rajasthan and Delhi confirmed that Pilot met Sonia Gandhi prior to flying to Kochi to join Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra and the issue of Rajasthan leadership was on the discussion table.

The final confirmation on the outcome of Sonia Gandhi’s intervention will come from Rahul Gandhi. Sources say that Gehlot may sign on the dotted line on the nomination form by September 26. Interestingly, Sonia Gandhi, to end Gehlot’s reluctance to let go of the CM chair, told him that he may soon be getting “her chair”, according to sources.

After meeting the party boss, Gehlot struck the right tones by saying “he was ready for any responsibility the party gave him.” After an hour-long meeting, the bluster of recent past had diminished. When asked if he would continue to be the Rajasthan CM, Gehlot said, “Party has given me everything. For the last 4-5 decades, I have been in various party positions. No post is important to me. What is important for me is how I will handle whatever responsibility is given to me. Wherever the workers say I will do, if they ask me to file a nomination, I will do it.”

Gehlot later in the day flew to Kerala to join Rahul Gandhi in the Bharat Jodo Yatra. Sources close to Gehlot say that he had planned to convince Rahul Gandhi one more time to return as Congress president.

GEHLOT’S DILEMMA: TURF PROTECTION

For Gehlot, it’s been hard to know which bridge to cross and which to burn. The Rajasthan CM, facing a dilemma, wanted to write a way out that ticks all the boxes that suits his politics.

After the latest interventions, if he decides to flow with the tide, he may be rubbing shoulders with the greats in the Congress pantheon, like Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and many more.

The name plate outside his office or his visiting card may read – Ashok Gehlot , President- Indian National Congress. For the last two and half decades, no one in Congress has even remotely dreamt of being where Gehlot could be in the near future. That’s especially because never before at any moment in Congress history have there been not one but three Gandhis-Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka, all active in politics, all eligible to be party president but reluctant to do that.

Of course, the natural corollary of flowing with the tide for Ashok Gehlot means partially burning bridges with Rajasthan. That’s because the most likely inheritor, Sachin Pilot, may not be generous in allowing him a toehold in the state once he leaves for Delhi.

But the power drive Gehlot had employed after he was told he could be Sonia Gandhi’s successor could be be stated as follows: With the backing of Congress’ first family he was set to be the next Congress president, but was reluctant to vacate Rajasthan CM post, was plotting a route to administer Rajasthan through a proxy after scuttling the chances of Pilot taking the throne.

For three days, before heading to Delhi and Kochi, Gehlot and his camp added to the jitters of party leadership. He displayed a new born kinship to senior party leader and Rajasthan Assembly Speaker CP Joshi. On Sunday, Gehlot invited Joshi to the inauguration of the renovated Barkatullah Khan Stadium on his home turf, Jodhpur.

Congress crisis: The buck stops with Sonia Gandhi | OPINION© Provided by India Today

The duo are said to be working together to help the CM’s son Vaibhav Gehlot continue as Rajasthan cricket association chief. There were signals that Gehlot may propose the name of Joshi or a senior leader like Shanti Dhaliwal as his successor to the high command.

Then, during his last meeting with party legislators, he asked them to take up their financial requirements for the constituencies in the next state budget. After stating that he would serve Rajasthan wherever he went, he had slipped in a remark – Main kahin nahin ja raha, chinta mat karo (I am not going anywhere, please don’t worry)

While those who want to quickly pack his bags and send him off to Delhi have been banking on the “one man-one post” or OMOP norm adopted at the party’s Nav Sankalp Chintan shivir in Udaipur in May.

Gehlot muddied the waters by categorically junking the applicability of OMOP in the party’s internal polls. He said, “The contest is open to everyone. Any MP, MLA, minister or chief minister can contest the election. If a Rajasthan minister wants to contest, he can stay on as minister and party president.”

But senior party leader Digvijaya Singh had contested Gehlot’s claim and said the latter will have to resign if he takes up the top job in the party as a leader, and cannot be chief minister or the party chief.

In the last month, Gehlot had stepped up his interactions with the media. In many places, he attacked Pilot subtly. Sometimes his attacks were sledgehammer-subtle. In private meetings and public statements, the July 2020 rebellion by MLAs loyal to Pilot was made a recurrent theme. At an event at the Sawai Manasingh Singh stadium, he “thanked God” for helping him save the Congress government.

Gehlot has since proposed Rahul Gandhi for party president despite the reluctance of the Gandhi scion, who the Congress still believes is the heir apparent. But then just a couple of days ago, he hosted a dinner for Vice President Jagdeep Dhankar. The dinner and its scale triggered a buzz that it was part of Gehlot’s farewell manoeuvres.

GEHLOT’S TRYST WITH HISTORY

Step back a bit and analyse this moment in Congress’s history. In 2004, Sonia Gandhi stepped aside for Dr Manmohan Singh to be the prime minister. Despite the BJP’s tirade, that was a historic first. The party top post, barring the times when few outsiders have held it, has been a fiercely protected hallowed space.

This time the Gandhis are making space for an outsider to take over the party. Sonia Gandhi is still the strongest veto in the party. Rahul Gandhi has the strong backing of a systemic echo and through his Yatra he is consolidating his grip. Of course, the yearning for change is driven by the Gandhi parivaar’s intense need for image and course correction.

Gehlot is getting the once in a lifetime offer because Rahul Gandhi remains reluctant to return to the party president’s post. Then he responded with reluctance. In a way, the various sets of hesitations to accept the top job in Congress reflect the devaluation of the Congress president’s post. It was, and I believe still is, a very powerful political post with immense potential if steered well. The Congress footprint on the Indian landscape and mind space though declining is still massive.

A senior Delhi-based Congressman known for his wit said,” 24 years ago, the family assisted by a few strongmen and cadres snatched the Congress back from party president Sitaram Kesri. Then Sonia Gandhi became a hesitant president. With the party’s fortunes dipping and cries for accountability mounting, Rahul Gandhi dumped the post in 2019. Today, Gehlot is pushing a “bargain deal” to accept the post. He is saying I will take the nation if I am allowed to keep the state. At one time, this would have been synonymous with someone refusing to accept the Kohinoor diamond till a piece of gold jewellery is thrown with it.”

But have no doubt. Gehlot has impeccable qualifications to take charge of the Congress, especially when the party needs a good political hand. His father was a professional travelling magician, but the congress knows that on a good day “Gehlot ji” as he is called, can be a “political magician” who can throw confounding tricks at opponents and party men with consummate ease.

He is a rare specie in the Congress. Powerful like a regional satrap in a high command driven dispensation and yet trusted by the dispensation. He knows the Indian political landscape very well, as he has worked in all 29 odd Indian states in some capacity or other at least once in the past. As a Congress activist, he worked in a relief and rehab camp for East Bengal refugees in 1971. He was the organising force behind Indira Gandhi’s rally in Jodhpur at the stadium right after the draconian Emergency was lifted in 1977. In 1984, he was the late Rajiv Gandhi’s poll agent in the Amethi constituency. The folklore is that he surprised the then party treasurer Sitaram Kesri by bringing back part of the party funds which were given for poll expenses. He has been with NSUI, Indian Youth Congress, been an MLA, a Lok sabha MP, a Union minister, Congress general secretary and is a three-term CM.

The icing on his political curriculum vitae is that the Gandhis trust him. Party bosses trusting and backing someone with a proven track record and mass appeal is a rare thing across the political spectrum.

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