This time it is for real. The Ashok Gehlot-Sachin Pilot tussle for power in Rajasthan is, most likely, to end in one of them finding himself out of the party. Pilot is in a do-or-die mood. It is either chief ministership or he would chalk out his own independent course. Gehlot not only would not allow him to become CM but he would hound out his pesky deputy out of government as well. He had so used the levers of power to fix his ambitious deputy that he would find his continuance even in the party untenable. The summons to Pilot, the incumbent deputy minister, in connection with a so-called sedition case registered by a special cell of the police was the proverbial last straw. Gehlot holds the Home portfolio as well. It was a warning to Pilot to behave himself or be ready for more police cases, a page from the playbook of the wily Pratap Singh Kairon who had ruled Punjab in the 60s with an iron fist.
Forced to take the number two slot when Gehlot was nominated Chief Minister by the high command in December 2018, Pilot was not reconciled. For five years following the humiliation of the party under Gehlot in the 2014 poll, he had steered the Congress in the State. Stupendous success in the 2018 Assembly poll was Pilot’s to savour. But the loser of 2014 was handed the chief ministerial crown. Admittedly, caste was a factor. The central leadership reckoned that in the caste-sensitive Rajasthan, a Gujar chief minister may not be acceptable. Inducted as Deputy CM, Gehlot humiliated Pilot at every turn, denying him a share in power. Besides, he imputed subversive motives to Pilot, claiming he was hobnobbing with the BJP to topple him. He probably wanted to but the numbers were an obstacle. The BJP had but only 72 MLAs in a House of 200; the Congress with the footloose BSP’s six had managed a tally of 107. Also, 13 Independents and one or two others supported it, something they will do if Pilot were to get the BJP on board and walk away with at least the 30 loyalists he claims to have with him. In the fast moving developments, on Monday morning Gehlot mustered 100 MLAs at his house before ‘quarantining’ them in a hotel lest they get tempted by Pilot who, after the brazenness of Gehlot in charging him with sedition, was not expected to attend the meeting anyway. The resolution adopted by the Gehlot supporters left nothing to imagination, virtually telling Pilot to go drown himself in the sea as far as they were concerned. Meanwhile, Pilot was holed up in the national capital, waiting for the ‘appointment’ with the Imperious Highness at 10 Janpath which he had sought some days ago. He had had no meeting with her son and heir, Rahul Gandhi. Given that the moral authority of the Gandhis stands largely emasculated, they are unable to enforce discipline even as various State units engage in naked power struggle. Whether it is in Punjab or in Chhattisgarh, the two States where the party is still in power on its steam, dissidence dogs the chief ministers, but there is little the Gandhis can do. In Rajasthan, things have gone so bad that it is going to end in one or the other power-chaser being driven out of the party. It is more likely to be Pilot. However he will have to sit out for some time before the internal power dynamics pulls Gehlot several notches down. For, with Pilot out of the reckoning, Gehlot will come under pressure to satiate the ambitions of those who stayed back to bolster his government.
Meanwhile, the distress of Congress leaders like Kapil Sibal and Shashi Tharoor at the unraveling of the party in Rajasthan ignores a basic reality. So long as the central leadership continues to be in limbo, with no clarity if Rahul Gandhi would take over from Sonia Gandhi, interim president since mid-2019, it will remain adrift. A number of senior leaders shudder at the thought of Rahul Gandhi returning as party chief. But the Gandhis would rather that the party sank further into irrelevance than countenance a situation where its control passes to a democratically elected party leader. Under the circumstances, fragmentation of the party cannot be ruled out. As for the ugly dog-fight over the chief ministerial ~kursi~ in Rajasthan, for once the BJP seems innocent. Even if it wanted to upstage Gehlot, Pilot cannot seem to muster 30-plus MLAs to do a Jyotiraditya Scindia on him. This round is almost certain to go to Gehlot. But not for long, mind you.