- Mr Gandhi to decide chief minister in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan
- Mr Gandhi has asked party workers in both states to give their feedback
- Congress won elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh
Who will lead the Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan governments will be decided by Congress president Rahul Gandhi today, the party said on Wednesday. In both states, lawmakers held marathon meetings after which their leaders announced that the choice had been left to Rahul Gandhi.
Mr Gandhi has sent an audio message to the party's workers in the three heartland states, asking them name their choice and promised complete confidentiality. The data, party sources said, will help decide whom the party workers want and already, very clear preferences are emerging from each state.
The Congress won Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in state elections seen as the last popularity test before the 2019 national polls.
The victory parties have been short-lived with intense lobbying behind-the-scenes for the chief minister's post in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
In Rajasthan, the Congress is sharply divided between Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot, even though both leaders have projected unity and smiled together in multiple photo-ops.
Sources say two-thirds of the newly-elected Congress lawmakers in Rajasthan have conveyed to the central leadership that they want Sachin Pilot, the 40-year-old state Congress head, to be chief minister.
Two leaders travelled from Delhi to get feedback from each of the 99 Congress lawmakers and to divine the popular mood.
While veteran Ashok Gehlot, a two-time chief minister, has experience on his side - critical as the party plunges into the national election campaign - Sachin Pilot led the Congress for the past four years in Rajasthan.
Sources say more lawmakers seem to favour Sachin Pilot, but the Congress' worry is accommodating Ashok Gehlot in an equally appealing role. Next year's national election may have a huge bearing on the decision.
Sources say the Congress is weighing a formula that will keep both leaders happy, since it is the combined strength of both that has brought the party this far. Such a formula may involve positioning one leader in Delhi for a national role, leaving the other to manage Rajasthan.
In Madhya Pradesh, state Congress chief Kamal Nath is believed to be his leadership's choice but a conflicting picture has emerged after Jyotiraditya Scindia, the other contender for the top post, told NDTV he would be "honoured" to serve as chief minister. Both the leaders left for Delhi on Wednesday night and are expected to meet Rahul Gandhi on Thursday.
"I am a servant of the people, have always been and will always be. What form that will take, be it through Madhya Pradesh or as minister of central government or chief whip, it is for my party to decide," Mr Scindia, 47, said, not ruling himself out.
While Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot contested and won the Rajasthan election, both Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia are parliamentarians and did not contest the Madhya Pradesh polls.
In both the states, the party had not named any chief ministerial candidate ahead of the elections.
Yesterday, the Congress president had said there would be "no issue" over chief ministership. "It will be done smoothly," he said.
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