NEW DELHI: The prospects of Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, 71, becoming the next Congress President are as good as zero as the leadership is furious at his “unbecoming conduct” of mobilising his MLAs to enact a drama of rebellion on Sunday evening in Jaipur with 82 of them submitting their resignations to Assembly Speaker CP Joshi.
Though it was maintaining that it would remain neutral in the presidential contest, the party leadership was seen to be grooming Gehlot to be its candidate for the presidency in view of Rahul Gandhi's firm refusal to head the party.
But Gehlot may now face expulsion. Even if he enters the fray for the president's election, the leadership is certain to strain every sinew to get him defeated.
If he is indeed expelled from the party, Gehlot would be disqualified from contesting the election, a veteran politician close to 10 Janpath said, pointing out that everybody in the party was upset by the Rajasthan Chief Minister orchestrating the flag of rebellion at a time when he was to be anointed the party president in another three weeks.
Several Congress Working Committee (CWC) members on Monday urged party interim President Sonia Gandhi to pull him out of the race for the party’s presidency. "It would not be good to lay faith in him and give him the responsibility of running the party,” a source quoting the CWC members said. “The leadership should reconsider his candidature and choose another senior leader who is also loyal to the Gandhi family."
The source said that in the normal course the members would have called for holding a CWC meeting to discuss the issue, but with many tied up with the party’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, that was thought to be inconvenient.
The veteran close to 10 Janpath rejected outright Gehlot's claim that it was not in his hands to prevent the revolt by his supporters, describing as “a farce” his statement that he had held various constitutional posts for 40 years and it was now time for the new generation to get a chance, as if he were ready to accept Sachin Pilot as his successor in the state.
In fact, interim President Sonia Gandhi was so angry that she would not mind if Rajasthan were brought under President's rule by the Centre if the MLAs were to insist on resigning en masse on Gehlot’s removal as chief minister, another top party leader said.
The party leadership also made it known that it was not willing to concede the MLAs’ demand to let Gehlot continue as the Chief Minister till Oct 19, when the Congress presidential election results will be out in the event of a contest, and to let him step down only after he is elected President. How can someone who stoops so low be the party chief, the leader asked.
Other party sources said the Congress President was also upset with general secretary Ajay Maken, in-charge of Rajasthan affairs, for hurrying with the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting on Sunday to effect the resignation of Gehlot and the election of his arch rival Sachin Pilot, 45, without assessing the mood of the MLAs.
They said it was a mistake to hold a CLP meeting without proper preparation to ensure it follows the time-honoured script of adopting a single-line resolution to authorise the Congress President to take the final decision.
The Gehlot MLAs did not attend the CLP meeting at the Chief Minister’s residence and made it clear after submitting their resignations to the Speaker that Pilot was unacceptable to them as Chief Minister for having engineered a revolt against the government led by Gehlot, allegedly in collusion with the BJP, in July 2020. Pilot was then the state Congress president and Deputy Chief Minister. He was sacked from both posts.