"Together, Winning...": Ashok Gehlot's Overture To Sachin Pilot Before Polls?

A photograph shared by Ashok Gehlot, showed him and Sachin Pilot in a meeting with others from the ruling Congress, including General Secretary KC Venugopal.

'Together, Winning...': Ashok Gehlot's Overture To Sachin Pilot Before Polls?

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot began Wednesday with a cryptic "together, winning again" post on X that appeared to offer his former deputy and current rival, Sachin Pilot, an olive branch ahead of next week's Assembly election. A photograph shared by Mr Gehlot, 72, showed the two in a meeting with others from the ruling Congress, including General Secretary KC Venugopal.

The post comes days before the state votes for a new government and after conciliatory comments by Mr Pilot; on Tuesday he played down questions on the Gehlot-Pilot feud and dismissed reminders of acerbic barbs the two have exchanged over the past few years, including the 'nikamma' remark.

"Leave it! Who said what? I can be responsible for what I said... we should maintain dignity in political discussions," Mr Pilot, 46, told PTI. Last week he spoke to NDTV about unity within the party's ranks and about a "five-year roadmap". "Together, we will make Congress win," he said.

READ | "Was Offended And Hurt By Name-Calling," Sachin Pilot Tells NDTV

He also said Congress boss Mallikarjun Kharge had advised him to "forgive, forget, and move on."

Mr Pilot, who will look to defend his Tonk seat, has also played down talk his rebellion of three years ago could affect his chances at being named Chief Minister, should the Congress retain power.

"I don't think it is a question of my chance, your chance or his chance. Right now we have to make sure the Congress party wins... tradition is that you fight elections... once you cross the majority mark, the MLAs and the leadership in Delhi will decide who will get what responsibility."

For his part, Mr Gehlot has not shied away from the odd dig at Mr Pilot.

Last month he took a veiled dig over his younger rival's chief ministerial ambitions, declaring at a media event in Delhi "... this post is not letting me go". He also made references to the Congress choosing him, thrice, to lead its government before claiming deference to the party's decisions.

READ | "Want To Leave Chief Minister's Post, But..." Ashok Gehlot Takes A Swipe

Days after that there were stronger comments; "... they tried to topple my government but they had no idea who they were dealing with..." Mr Gehlot proclaimed, although he did not name Mr Pilot.

The often bitter back-and-forth between the two flared up in May this year too.

Mr Gehlot and Mr Pilot exchanged barbs over the former's claim that BJP leader Vasundhara Raje had saved the party when it was on brink of collapse due to the latter's rebellion.

READ |Sachin Pilot's All-Out Attack On Ashok Gehlot, No End To Congress Problem

And a month before that sources close to Mr Pilot categorically refused talk he may leave the Congress. This was before his day-long fast against corruption - a fast widely seen as an embarrassment to Mr Gehlot, whom he accuses of not acting against such allegations.

READ | "They Tried To Topple My Government...": Gehlot Recalls Revolt

The Gehlot-Pilot feud - over the chief minister's post - broke soon after the Congress defeated the BJP in the 2018 election. It simmered for two years till Mr Pilot and around 30 loyal MLAs walked out of Rajasthan and into BJP-ruled Haryana, sparking talk he was prepping to join the rival party.

Although the rebellion was squashed - a truce brokered by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra - the tension between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot has never really gone, and the Congress may well be looking nervously over its shoulder in a state that, for the past 30 years, has voted out the incumbent.

READ | Sachin Pilot Calls Truce With Gandhis, Panel To Tackle His Grievances

During his revolt - which almost brought down the Congress government - Mr Pilot made clear he would not countenance joining the BJP. "I would like to make it clear... no plans to join BJP," he said.

READ | "Not Joining BJP, Attempt To Malign Me Before Gandhis": Sachin Pilot

This election is widely seen as a straight fight between the BJP and the Congress.

For both, though, infighting is a major challenge. The BJP, in an attempt to negate this problem, has reverted to a tried-and-tested tactic - to declare Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the face of its campaign rather than call up a state leader and risk angering his or her rivals.

Rajasthan is one of five states voting this month. The others are Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana. Mizoram voted on November 7. All results will be declared on December 3.

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