The buzz in Rajasthan is that Sachin Pilot would be the next Chief Minister
Sachin Pilot, seen as Congress High Command's choice for the next Chief Minister of Rajasthan, may not have a smooth sailing. What was expected to be a transition of power under the eyes of the party's Central leaders, may have evolved into a roadblock, with Team Ashok Gehlot digging in its heels after a meeting today. Sources said 56 MLAs of Team Gehlot have unanimously decided that the Chief Minister should be one of the 102 MLAs who supported the Congress government during the rebellion by Mr Pilot and his 18 loyalists in 2020.
The Gehlot loyalists, including 16 ministers, met this evening at the home of Shanti Dhariwal ahead of the crucial Legislature Party meet where the next Chief Minister is expected to be named.
Mr Gehlot is away in Jaisalmer but will be back for the Congress meet later in the evening. The meet will be held under the eyes of central leader Mallikarjun Kharge and state in-charge Ajay Maken. But the party's interim chief, Sonia Gandhi, will name the next Chief Minister, sources have said.
Mr Gehlot, frontrunner for the post of the party president, has been extremely reluctant to leave the top job in Rajasthan in order to keep Mr Pilot out. But after Rahul Gandhi's vocal support of the party's "one man one post" resolution, his hands are tied. Sources, however, have indicated earlier that if not him, Mr Gehlot would prefer a loyalist to head the government.
Independent MLA Sanyam Lodha, who also attended the meet, told NDTV, "If the decision is not taken according to the wishes of the MLAs, how will the government run? The government will fall".
Mr Gehlot, meanwhile, told reporters in Jaisalmer that they have faith in the party high command's decision. "All Congressmen unanimously keep faith on the Congress president, and today also, you will get a glimpse of it," he was quoted as saying by news agency Press Trust of India.
The way numbers stack up in Rajasthan, the 13 Independent MLAs hold the key. Of the 13 Independents, 12 are with Mr Gehlot.
In the 200-seat state assembly, the Congress has 100 MLAs, as well as the six who switched camp from Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party. The Congress makes it past the halfway mark of 101 with a very slim majority and needs the support of the Independents to maintain stability.
Sachin Pilot, who is credited by many with being the architect of victory in the last assembly election, was seen as a contender for the top job but was persuaded by Rahul Gandhi to act as Mr Gehlot's Deputy.
Two years ago, Mr Pilot had rebelled, camping out in Delhi with 18 supporters who insisted on a bigger role for him in the government. The bitter stand-off was resolved after more than a month, following meetings with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
This time, with Rahul Gandhi putting his foot down regarding a double role for Mr Gehlot, there is expectation that Mr Pilot may have his chance at last. Asked about the mater, Mr Pilot had said the party high command will take a call on the next Chief Minister.
Rajasthan is one of the two states ruled by the Congress where elections are due at the end of the next year.