The two-day deadlock over who will be the next chief minister of Rajasthan ended on Friday after Congress president Rahul Gandhi brokered peace between party veteran Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot, a member of the party’s young guard.
Gehlot, 67, was designated chief minister and Pilot, 41, deputy chief minister. Pilot will also continue to be head of the state unit of the Congress till at least the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
A Congress leader familiar with the development, requesting anonymity, said two sections of the party had been batting for Gehlot and Pilot on different grounds. One section wanted the party leadership to name the state unit president as CM as had happened in Punjab (Captain Amarinder Singh) in the past and in Madhya Pradesh (Kamal Nath) in the current round of state elections. Had Gandhi followed that formula, Pilot would have trumped Gehlot ifor the top post.
This section also argued that Pilot had worked hard to revive the party organisation for the past five years after taking over as the Rajasthan Congress chief in January 2014, barely a month after the party was routed in the December 2013 assembly elections. The Congress managed to win a mere 21 of the 200 seats.
Although the poor show continued in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections with the Congress failing to open its account and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) winning all 25 seats, the leaders claimed that Pilot had initiated a revival, as shown by the party’s improved performance in panchayat and civic body polls. The party also won earlier this year in the Lok Sabha bypolls in Alwar and Ajmer. The rival section wanted the leadership to hand over the reins to the experienced two-time chief minister Gehlot to ensure a good performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. They cited the 2009 Lok Sabha elections when the Congress, under Gehlot, was able to win 20 seats from Rajasthan.
They also cautioned that Pilot’s appointment could lead to anti-Gujjar mobilsation, resulting in reverses for the party in the 2019 polls. Pilot belongs to the community.
This section also argued that Gehlot, who belongs to the Mali (gardener) community that comes under the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category, was acceptable to all sections.
During the past two days, Gandhi met Gehlot and Pilot separately twice with meetings extending till late in the night on Thursday as both sides made their cases. Gandhi then called the two leaders together to his residence on Friday to seal the deal. Pilot agreed to be Gehlot’s deputy.
As part of Gandhi’s balancing act, the agreement also envisaged a clear division of responsibilities between the two leaders, with portfolios equally shared by members of their camps. United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson and former Congress president Sonia Gandhi also had to intervene to end the stalemate.
In the midst of the discussions, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra visited her brother’s residence at 12, Tughlak Lane a few times.