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Gehlot Inducts Pilot Loyalists in Council; Congress High Command Establishes its Writ

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The Cabinet reshuffle in Rajasthan shows that the central leadership doesn’t want Ashok Gehlot to run one-man show, give equitable space to Sachin Pilot who led Congress to victory in 2018 and raise a new leadership in the state among varied communities to repeat the success in 2023 Assembly polls.

By SUBHASH CHANDRA YADAV


Rajasthan has never seen a repeat of a government since 1993 when the BJP stalwart Bhairon Singh Shekhawat came back to form the government. And when it comes to Ashok Gehlot, the record is even dubious. Hence, in order to beat the anti-incumbency that forms quite faster than the rest of the country, the Congress high command and the state leadership is in quest to come back to power post 2023 elections. The recent reshuffle of the Rajasthan cabinet is in the same direction – a truce between Sachin and Gehlot, and representation of all communities whose elector support is necessary to win assembly elections. 

Party sources hold that the reshuffle was long due as factionalism and discontent of the rival groups in the Congress were to be accommodated- MLAs loyal to both Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot, ex Deputy CM. 

New faces in the Council of Ministers 

In the fresh expansion and reshuffle, Ashok Gehlot has announced 15 new names in the council of whom as many 11 are taken as cabinet ministers and the rest four are ministers of state. The total of the council of the ministers including the Chief Minister has come to 30 and not more than 15 per cent of the total number of the members of the Assembly can become ministers as per the law. 

What is astonishing is that five of the 15 are loyalists of Sachin Pilot — Hemaram Choudhary, Vishvendra Singh, Ramesh Meena, Brijendra Singh Ola and Murari Lal Meena. Out of these, Ola and Murari Lal have been made state ministers while the other three now have the cabinet rank. If one remembers, there were as many as 18 MLAs who sided with Sachin Pilot when he rebelled against Ashok Gehlot last year and camped in Haryana and Delhi for more than one month. The five, who are now a part of the Rajasthan Government, were among the rebels who joined Pilot. The impact of the rebellion in Rajasthan was that Vishwendra 

Singh and Ramesh Meena were removed from the cabinet by Ashok Gehlot as a punishment for bringing the political crisis. The two were also suspended from the primary membership of the Congress party. It was when Sachin was placated by the Congress high command, their party membership was reinstated. After more than a year, both are back as cabinet ministers. It has been learnt that Sachin Pilot had demanded with the central leadership of the Congress about their reinstatement. 

Barmer district’s strongman who has been elected to the Assembly six times — Hemaram Choudhary– who is also a confidant of Pilot is also a cabinet minister. Choudhary had resigned from the Assembly earlier this year but his resignation was pending before the speaker of the house. His resignation also has a story. Hemaram Choudhary has frozen relations with another Congress leader from Barmer, Harish Chaudhary. Once Harish Chaudhary was made the Congress in-charge for Punjab after Harish Rawat had quit the job post Amarinder Singh-Navjot Singh Sidhu spat, he had resigned from his ministerial post and now Hemaram Choudhary has been offered the berth in place of him.

This is about the Sachin Pilot gang. The 10 names among the new entrants are of the followers of Gehlot. Mahesh Joshi and Ramlal Jat are counted among the staunchest supporters of the Chief Minister. Mahesh Joshi was made the Chief Whip of the Congress party in the Assembly at the behest of Gehlot. Rajendra Singh Gudhais made a state minister for showing his immense loyalty to the CM. He had won the 2018 Assembly election on a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) ticket but later switched to Congress when all the six BSP MLAs defected to the grand old party in lock, stock and barrel.

Factors behind the move

The key question is what compelled Ashok Gehlot and the high command for this change of heart all of a sudden. Among the many reasons, ‘caste consideration’ is chief. Politics in India is a manifestation of caste and no player can stand the contest without a social engineering based on caste and it’s more so about Rajasthan – a society that follows the caste hierarchy quite seriously. 

Of the new induction, seven names come from the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes categories — four SCs and three STs. The three Scheduled Caste MLAs were state ministers previously who are now elevated as cabinet ministers. Rajasthan has more than 18 per cent of the SC population who make about 1.2 crore in absolute numbers and they are the highest as a group in the state. Barring four districts, namely, Udaipur, Banswara, Dungarpur and Rajsamand, all districts of Rajasthan have at least a reserved seat for the SC. In Ganganagar and Hanumangarh, their population has crossed a whopping 26 per cent. This means, this social group cannot be taken for granted for long. In the last elections for the Assembly in 2018, Congress had won most of these seats to come to power.

The Pilot group, especially Ved Prakash Solanki, have been demanding for more SC, ST and minority communities’ represen- tation in governance.

The second most influential group in the politics of Rajasthan is of Jats. The Chief Minister has made four MLAs coming from the Jat community as ministers. Not many would be familiar with the fact that Rajasthan has the highest number of Jats in India – more than Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. In terms of percentage, political analysts keep it between 14-15 per cent. Considering the good number of Gujjars in the state, Shakuntala Rawat has been accorded a cabinet berth too. The Gujjars have been a highly unhappy lot with Ashok Gehlot as he didn’t allow Sachin Pilot to become the Chief Minister despite leading the party to victory in the 2018 Assembly elections as the President of Rajasthan Congress. Ashok Chandna, who is already a minister, is another Gujjar in the council of ministers. But both the Gujjar ministers are supporters of Gehlot and do not come from Pilot’s group. Similarly, Muslims of the state have tried to be placated with the inclusion of Zahida as a minister though not in the cabinet.

Gehlot presented the resignation of three of his ministers — Raghu Sharma, Govind Singh Dotasra and Harish Chaudhary — to the governor of the state, Kalraj Mishra. There were only nine vacancies but the fresh induction is of 15; this means that the ministers were holding more than one portfolios and this will be distributed among the new entrants. CM Ashok Gehlot himself holds multiple important portfolios including Finance, Home, Excise and General Administration. 

High command ‘in command’ 

Political analysts see the nature of reshuffle of Rajasthan’s council of ministers in a different light. The reshuffle has provided space to Sachin Pilot, enough to douse off any possible rebellion, and cut the wings of Ashok Gehlot, to tell him that ‘one man show’ is a complete no in the Congress party. Gehlot had kept the Sachin faction on the edge for long but even after meeting Congress President Sonia Gandhi twice, he is forced to induct Sachin loyalists to cabinet berths. 

According to a party source, Pilot has turned down the post of AICC general secretary in-charge of the state. This means that there is something else on his mind too. Gehlot is already 70 years of age and by the next elections he would be too told to be considered for the post. He also has a dubious record in his name – he has been Chief Minister twice before this term but had never been able to bring the Congress back to power. 

The high command, while asserting its say in the matters of the state, now wants to create new leadership. Although the Rajasthan Congress story will still revolve around Gehlot and Pilot, the high command led by Sonia Gandhi, by giving important organisational roles to Raghu Sharma, a Brahmin, Harish Chaudhary and Govind Singh Dotasra, both from the Jat community, and Bhanwar Jitender Singh, a Rajput, has thrown more leaders from varied backgrounds into the mix. 

Analysts also say this may be the last stint of Gehlot as Chief Minister as Rahul Gandhi has more faith in young and inexperienced leaders without their own standing or mass base and thus he looks for young turks and trusts them despite resistance. Bihar leadership was very unhappy with Kanhaiya Kumar’s induction in the party but the high command had its say. Similarly, Revanth Reddy is Congress unit Chief in Telangana even though he comes from RSS background as he is both firebrand and active. Jignesh Mevani is new Dalit icon in Gujarat and Hardik Patel is made acting President at such a young age to make a difference. Nana Patole in Maharashtra and Navjot Singh Sidhu in Punjab are also young turks whom the party continue to trust even though they create problems for the party occasionally. This move of Rahul Gandhi will cost the Congress party dearly in the years to come, say some veteran Congress leaders, and in 2024 elections, Congress party may be relegated to just single digit seats in the Parliament.

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