In Ashok Gehlot vs Sachin Pilot, Big Congress Meet On Rajasthan Top Post

Ashok Gehlot is the frontrunner in the election next month to become the first non-Gandhi Congress chief in two decades.

Sachin Pilot may finally get Ashok Gehlot's Rajasthan chair, two years after failed coup. (File)

New Delhi:

The Congress has called a meeting of its Rajasthan MLAs in Jaipur on Sunday evening amid buzz that Ashok Gehlot may finally make way for Sachin Pilot to become Chief Minister while he becomes Congress President. 

The party headquarters in Delhi has appointed senior leader Mallikarjun Kharge as observer, and Ajay Maken, the state in-charge, will also attend. The Congress Legislature Party (CLP) is expected to authorise interim party chief Sonia Gandhi to select the next chief minister.

Ashok Gehlot is the frontrunner in the election next month to become the first non-Gandhi Congress chief in two decades. Not willing to lose grip on Rajasthan, he dithered and pushed back, even called a meeting of MLAs as a show of strength earlier this week. But he gave in to the party rule of 'one man, one post' finally after a clear message from Rahul Gandhi.

This means Sachin Pilot, who lost the Deputy Chief Minister's post after a failed coup in 2020, may now get the promotion he wanted then. Mr Gehlot had wanted at least a loyalist as stand-in. But that seems unlikely.

Rajasthan goes to polls at the end of the next year, just six months ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha contest. It is one of just two states — the other is Chhattisgarh — where the Congress is in power on its own. 

Given the urgency, pieces moved quickly this past week. 

The last time the party's MLA met in Jaipur was Ashok Gehlot's power show, timed when Sachin Pilot was out of town for Rahul Gandhi's 'Bharat Jodo Yatra'. When Mr Pilot returned, Mr Gehlot joined Rahul Gandhi for the Yatra.

While Sachin Pilot simply said the "high command will decide", Mr Gehlot went and met party boss Sonia Gandhi; and even requested Rahul Gandhi to retake the chief's post. But Rahul Gandhi stuck to his stance that a non-Gandhi must be it. 

Mr Gehlot's dual-post desire lost all wind once Rahul Gandhi said at a press conference that he expects "commitments made at Udaipur to be respected".

Three years ago in Udaipur, which also happens to be in Rajasthan, the party had decided on the single-post policy. 

For the chief's post, Ashok Gehlot's rival so far is Shashi Tharoor, one of 23 leaders who'd demanded the elections and a fulltime president. Manish Tewari, another one of the G-23, has shown interest too.

Nominations can be filed till September 30 for the October 17 vote. Results will be announced on October 19. More than 9,000 delegates from across India are voters.

The last time this election was held at all was in 2017, but voting wasn't needed as no one challenged Rahul Gandhi. Voting was last needed in 2001, when Jitendra Prasad put up what turned out to be a symbolic fight against Sonia Gandhi. She won with more than 99 per cent of the vote and kept getting re-elected — unopposed, of course — until 2017, when Rahul Gandhi took a promotion from vice-chief to party president.

He quit in 2019, two months after the party lost another Lok Sabha contest, in which PM Narendra Modi won with even greater numbers. Sonia Gandhi is the interim chief since.

That said, Rahul Gandhi evidently remains the party's face. A non-Gandhi may serve to blunt the nepotism charge, while Rahul Gandhi is walking 3,500 kilometres from Kanyakumari to Kashmir to bolster himself and the party ahead of the 2024 contest. Rajasthan is a key halt.

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