Ashok Gehlot prevails for now, but the crisis is far from over

Poornima Joshi New Delhi | Updated on July 13, 2020 Published on July 13, 2020

A file photo of Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot (R) and his deputy Sachin Pilot.   -  PTI

Developments in Rajasthan are reflective of the structural fragility and the leadership vacuum in the Congress

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot may have proved his political mettle by securing his government as also inflicting humiliation on his Deputy CM, the rebellious Sachin Pilot, but the crisis in the Congress is far from over.

Events over the last 72 hours in Rajasthan reflect the structural fragility and larger leadership crisis in the Congress that is struggling to save even majority governments led by it in the States, let alone provide a national alternative to a powerful BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The departure of Jyotiraditya Scindia toppled the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh, and in Rajasthan, where the Congress has a clear majority with 107 MLAs in the 200-member Assembly besides the additional support of two Bharatiya Tribal Party and CPI(M) MLAs, one MLA of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and 11 independents, the instability caused by Sachin Pilot’s rebellion will continue to be a cause of instability.

The chances of Pilot being mollycoddled back into the party fold, despite Randeep Singh Surjewala’s placatory “Where there are four vessels, there’s noise” outreach, are thin. In the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) resolution, Ashok Gehlot managed to deal a firm blow to Pilot by inserting the threat of “strict disciplinary action against those office-bearers or CLP members who overtly or covertly support the conspiracy to destabilise the Congress”. That does not signal a smooth ride back and leaves only two options for Pilot – float his own outfit or join the BJP.

Neither situation heralds the promise of stability for the Gehlot government. Whether it is the BJP’s “money or muscle power” mentioned in the CLP resolution or the “Centre’s frontal organisations namely — CBI, ED or IT Department” mentioned by Surjewala as “the weapons against political rivals”, the Congress legislators now have an easy via media in Pilot to negotiate with a powerful BJP. Even if he does not have the required strength to topple the State Government, Pilot will continue to provide a more accessible exit route to Congress MLAs in Rajasthan.


Leadership vacuum

The roots and genesis of this crisis is the vacuum in the Congress at the national level. The acting president of the Congress Sonia Gandhi has failed to replicate her own precedent circa 2004 when she relinquished the Prime Ministerial post and gained moral authority among the party rank and file. The only way to secure similar stature in the aftermath of the Congress’s decisive defeat in 2019 would have been to announce organisational elections, even if the Gandhis were to fight a fixed match. What instead happened was the farcical and petulant walkout by the then President Rahul Gandhi and a subsequent takeover by Sonia Gandhi who has since operated by being more or less absent or non-functional. Priyanka Gandhi, on her part, has confined her activities to Uttar Pradesh.


There is little surprise then that the more established leaders — be it Jyotiraditya Scindia or Sachin Pilot — do not see a future in the Congress. The veteran war horses – Gehlot in Rajasthan or Amarinder Singh in Punjab — will hold on till they can. But that is no cause for celebration as the Congress continues to haemorrhage from within even when it is not being attacked from outside.

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Published on July 13, 2020
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