The decision on the Ashok Gehlot-Sachin Pilot Congress turf war in Rajasthan will be in limbo until Friday with the Rajasthan High Court deciding to reserve its judgment on the disqualification plea against Pilot and his bunch of rebel legislators.
For now, the trump card is with Gehlot but regardless of what happens to Pilot’s revolt, a veritable Sword of Damocles would continue to hang over Gehlot’s head for quite a while because time is on Pilot’s side. The Congress, which has been reeling over the loss of power in Karnataka and then Madhya Pradesh stands exposed as a divided house, vulnerable in state after state as a weakened entity tottering along its way with characteristic infighting.
To young Pilot it can be said that in retrospect, if there was a game plan to checkmate the Gehlot government it was unclear all the way through what it was. Sachin Pilot, who was deputy chief minister when he stuck his neck out and raised the banner of revolt against an old, wily warhorse Ashok Gehlot, seemed on shaky ground.
But while Pilot retained his sense of decency, Gehlot took his rhetoric to mean limits, revealing in one media interview that he had not been on talking terms with Pilot for 18 months (what an admission!) and in another calling Pilot a ‘nikamma’ (useless) and ‘nakara’ (idle).The party high command had on record warned him against criticising Pilot in public but Gehlot couldn’t care less for what the high command said. In a sense, Gehlot was cocking a snook at the high command and asserting his own clout.
In answer to Gehlot’s aggression, Pilot has been subdued. The Pilot group had challenged the notice for disqualification before the Rajasthan High Court on the ground that it had neither violated any whip nor had indulged in anti-party activities. The Pilot line has been that he is not joining BJP. “Our fight is to save Congress by changing the leadership.”
Apparently, Pilot had entertained hopes that like in Madhya Pradesh earlier when Jyotiraditya Scindia walked out of the Congress party with a flock of legislators who were loyal to him, bringing down the Kamal Nath led Congress government after Scindia joined the BJP he would succeed in sending the Congress government crashing in Rajasthan.
But somewhere along the way, Pilot lost the way as the game plan failed to work. The BJP was all along clear that Pilot would have to mobilise at least 30 legislators so that when they are disqualified under the anti-defection law, the government could be brought down with BJP’s numbers and be bolstered later by Congress defectors fighting on BJP tickets.
However, Pilot had not reckoned with ground realities that the breakaway group would dwindle in the wake of Gehlot’s relentless attempt to keep his numbers intact and adopt all kinds of strategems to outwit a relative newcomer in the game of deception and subterfuge. What boosted Gehlot’s confidence in his fight with Pilot was also his finding common ground behind-the-scenes with former chief minister and BJP leader Vasundhara Raje who did not want the BJP high command striking a deal with Pilot to usher him into the party. She reckoned that any such deal would dilute her importance in the party.
With Pilot announcing that he would have no truck with the BJP, the toppling game seemingly hit a dead end. The rationale behind Pilot’s campaign to dislodge Gehlot stood uprooted with the BJP cold-shouldering Pilot under Vasundhara Raje’s muscle-flexing within the BJP and the tacit deal between Raje and Gehlot not to allow Pilot to steal a march over her.
When sure that she had successfully warded off Pilot, Raje set about pretending that she was super loyal to the BJP. Her eyes are set on another ‘go’ at the chief ministership despite the high command not at heart attuned to the idea.
Confronted with loose talk coming from a chief minister, Pilot, who had seemingly burnt bridges with the BJP because of his insistence that he would not join that party seems to be having second thoughts. If Rahul Gandhi’s instruction to Gehlot to be soft on Pilot was in earnest, the Rajasthan chief minister’s broadsides against Pilot can be construed as defiance of the high command but Gehlot reckons that in such a situation the high command would not take serious note of it.
The Congress high command cannot but be worried that if Pilot finally drifts away, the two tallest icons of youth (Scindia included) would have signalled the alienation of the youth from the Congress. It would be an indication that the old guard has strengthened its stranglehold on the grand old party.
Running side by side with the main drama in Rajasthan is the side show of money power. There is no mistaking the fact that both the BJP and the Congress are adept at greasing palms of legislators to win them to their side. With a National Investigation Agency (NIA) probe on at BJP’s behest, there is ammunition being readied in the Gehlot-Pilot battle after the court verdict in the disqualification case.
All in all, the deep fissures in the Congress in Rajasthan are for all to see. If the Gehlot government survives as seems likely, the party would be a pale shadow of how it was before the last Assembly polls which it won handsomely. The credibility of the Gehlot government would be much diminished. If the party splits, the Pilot group could attract a few more legislators in coming days and pose a fresh challenge to Gehlot in days to come with BJP’s support or otherwise.
The writer is a political commentator and columnist. He has authored four books.