Once again, Congress high command struggles to control Pilot-Gehlot tussle in Rajasthan

31 July 2021
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi (centre) with Sachin Pilot (left) and Ashok Gehlot during a public event in 2018.
Himanshu Vyas / Hindustan Times
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi (centre) with Sachin Pilot (left) and Ashok Gehlot during a public event in 2018.
Himanshu Vyas / Hindustan Times

The political storm that arose within the Congress government in Rajasthan a year ago—a tussle for power between the current chief minister Ashok Gehlot and his former deputy Sachin Pilot—has taken on a new relevance in recent weeks. On the evening of 24 July, the Congress general secretary KC Venugopal and the All India Congress Committee’s Rajasthan chief Ajay Maken arrived in Jaipur for a long consultation with Gehlot and the Congress state president Govind Singh Dotasra. Speaking to the media after the meeting, Maken mentioned an impending cabinet reshuffle.

Over 28 and 29 July, Maken held one-on-one meetings with 119 MLAs from the Rajasthan assembly. The next day, Maken told the media that “all MLAs are satisfied” with the Gehlot government, and that he would be making a report to the All India Congress Committee in Delhi with an eye on its strategy for the 2023 elections in Rajasthan.

Maken had earlier denied any differences between Gehlot and Pilot over the cabinet reshuffle and a restructuring of the party leadership in the state. But local media is rife with reports of their disagreements over the new order. While Gehlot is reportedly seeking rewards for the 19 non-Congress MLAs that helped him retain power last year—a mix of independents and MLAs from the Bahujan Samaj Party who switched to the Congress—Pilot wants to tighten his hold in the party by putting as many of his supporters in the cabinet as possible. According to NDTV, Pilot attended the meeting on 24 July with a group of the MLAs supporting him and demanded that they be accommodated in the state government.

The stand-off in Rajasthan is taking the place of another recent crisis within the Congress ranks, in Punjab, where Navjot Singh Sidhu went up against the chief minister Amarinder Singh. After a months-long tussle, Sidhu was eventually named the Congress committee president in the state. The Gehlot–Pilot rivalry has complicated matters for the Congress high command in Delhi—the displeasure of any group, be it the Pilot and Gehlot camps or allied non-party MLAs, could adversely impact the party’s hold in the state and its performance in 2023. 

The spat between Gehlot and Pilot first came to a head in mid 2020, when Pilot, the deputy chief minister at the time, left for Delhi with some MLAs in tow. Coming right after Jyotiraditya Scindia’s move to the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, which toppled the Congress government there, Pilot’s visit to Delhi sparked speculations of another defection—in fact, Gehlot accused him of working with the BJP to bring down the government in Rajasthan. Pilot made it clear at the time that he was only expressing his dissatisfaction with the Rajasthan government’s workings. He claimed the support of 18 MLAs within the party. Displeased with Pilot’s actions, the Congress leadership removed him from the posts of the deputy chief minister and the party’s state president.

Anurag Basira a journalist based in Rajasthan.

Keywords: Indian National Congress Sachin Pilot Ashok Gehlot Rajasthan Sonia Gandhi Rahul Gandhi