Protests Erupt In Rajasthan As Infighting Over Tickets Roils Congress

Protests have erupted in some parts of the state after the party released the fourth and fifth lists of candidates.

The shadow of the Sachin Pilot-Ashok Gehlot feud also hangs over the Congress.

Jaipur:

The Congress is facing a fresh hurdle in its quest to buck the 'revolving door' trend in Rajasthan by winning a second straight term in the state. After the fourth and fifth lists for the Assembly elections, which will be held on November 25, were released on Tuesday, infighting in the party has come to the fore in the form of protests by Congress workers in some parts of the state. The workers are unhappy about their chosen leaders being denied tickets. 

The protests are emerging as a major headache for the Congress' central leadership and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who has said that it is not possible to keep everyone happy, but added that those who have been denied tickets may be accommodated in various boards.

The Congress has declared names for 156 of the 200 Assembly seats so far and three sticking points that have emerged are ministers Shanti Dhariwal and Mahesh Joshi and party leader Dharmendra Rathore.

All three had been issued a show-cause notice by the central leadership for their alleged rebellion ahead of the party's presidential elections last year.

When Ashok Gehlot had emerged as one of the main contenders for the party president's post and it was later said that he would have to give up the chief ministership of Rajasthan under the 'one man-one post principle', at least 72 MLAs close to him had submitted their resignations to the Assembly speaker. The MLAs were opposed to Sachin Pilot being named the next chief minister and had cited his 2020 rebellion against the government.

Ticket Chances?

The protest at the party's headquarters in Jaipur on Wednesday was over the ticket to Mahesh Joshi, who is the sitting MLA for the Hawamahal constituency, the candidate for which has not even been declared yet. With Mr Joshi getting the high command's notice over the rebellion and his son facing a rape charge, there are strong indications that the ticket may go to the party's Jaipur unit president RR Tiwari.

Mr Dhariwal is seen as a close aide of Mr Gehlot and the rebel MLAs had held a meeting at his residence instead of attending the Congress Legislature Party meet on September 25, 2022. Mr Dhariwal had also allegedly said that Mr Gehlot was the "real high command". At a meeting of the Congress Central Election Committee last month, former party president Sonia Gandhi had allegedly objected to his name being part of the list of probables and had reportedly asked whether those who work against the party could feature in such a list. 

Sources have told NDTV, however, that there is a high probability of Mr Dhariwal being given a ticket to avoid antagonising the chief minister. But there is no clarity on whether Dharmendra Rathore will get to contest.

'Structural Issues'

The Congress had played safe so far but the protests have begun after names were announced for some contested seats on Tuesday. 

Speaking to NDTV, political strategist Amitabh Tiwari said that while both the BJP and the Congress are facing problems with ticket distribution, the issue is bigger for the Congress because it has not managed to get a simple majority of 101 both times it formed the government in the last three elections. 

"Congress faces structural issues in Rajasthan... There are 54 seats it has never won in the last three elections. They need to win 101 of 146 seats to actually form the government and that is why they are falling short - sometimes 96 (seats), sometimes 99. And when they lose, they lose big because their stronghold seats are very less. So rebellion is a big problem for the Congress compared to the BJP, which has never won only in 19 constituencies in the same elections," he said. 

Other Factors

The shadow of the Sachin Pilot-Ashok Gehlot feud, which seems to have simmered down in the run-up to the elections, also hangs over the Congress, but what works in the party's favour is Mr Gehlot's clout and sound political instincts. He had managed to win over the support of 12 independents in 2018 and they have been given Congress tickets this time. 

Mr Pilot has, however, said that he will decide who will be chief minister once the party wins, indicating that he has also been promised something. 

Mr Tiwari said the BJP finds it easier to drop sitting MLAs and even replace members of the cabinet like they had done in Gujarat because it is a cadre-based party aligned to an ideology. 

"In the Congress, however, the cadre in any Vidhan Sabha seat is split between the top four to five leaders. So when one person gets the ticket, the cadre loyal to the other leaders goes silent and does not, normally, work for the party," he said. 

Mr Tiwari added, "We are seeing issues in the Rajasthan BJP as well, but once a candidate is announced, the ideology ensures that a relatively larger number of workers back him or her."

Reacting to the protests, the Congress has said that it is not surprising that a party in power is seeing more instances of candidates wanting a ticket and being unhappy when it is denied.

"Tickets are decided based on a process, based on surveys and consultations, and that takes time. It should take time. It is natural for some people to be disappointed. We are the winning party, just look at how much fighting is happening in the losing party. It is natural for there to be some anger in the winning party," said senior Congress leader Pawan Khera.

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