Rajasthan Crisis Shows Leadership Vacuum Continues To Haunt Congress

While the party’s government totters, Rahul Gandhi and most of Congress's frontline leadership are busy with the Bharat Jodo Yatra, the likely electoral dividends of which is still unclear.

(Photo Credit: PTI/File)

The Congress doesn’t have a national face, someone like Narendra Modi, who can sway voters across the geographical divide of the country. Rahul Gandhi has been trying but due to several reasons, he has not succeeded so far.

That is why the crisis in Rajasthan – where apparently Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who is ready to be the next Congress national president, doesn’t want to hand over his Chief Ministership to his one-time Deputy Sachin Pilot – is turning into yet another example of how not to run a party. The absence of a full-time, credible leader at the helm, one whose authority and diktat are unchallenged, has once again come back to haunt Congress.

While the party’s government totters, Rahul Gandhi and most of Congress’s frontline leadership are busy with the Bharat Jodo Yatra, the likely electoral dividends of which are still unclear. The absence of a clear high command structure was never as visible as it is now in Congress. There’s no Ahmed Patel to cajole/bully/threaten/advise state leaders and ensure they comply with the high command’s plans without demur.

With Gehlot and his MLAs adopting a belligerent we-can-take-you-on-stance against it, the Congress high command has a difficult task on its hands. More than the chief ministership of Rajasthan, the ongoing imbroglio has cast a deep shadow on the election of the party president – if Gehlot is proving so difficult now, what guarantee does the high command (read the Gandhi family) have that he won’t refuse to play a rubber stamp if he becomes the party chief?

Gehlot is an old warhorse, having survived several attempts in the past to dethrone him – both from within and outside his party. He, however, carries the baggage of not having been able to win a single seat – his own son Vaibhav Gehlot lost in the Jodhpur constituency by a huge margin of over 2.50 lakh voters – out of the 25 Lok Sabha that Rajasthan has in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as well as facing anti-incumbency in a state that has a very strong BJP presence and where communal polarisation has already visibly begun.

Sachin, often said to be the darling of the Lutyen’s media, enjoys the confidence of the Gandhi family scion and former party president Rahul Gandhi. In 2018, he was the state unit chief when Congress won the Assembly elections but his claim for Chief Ministership was ignored in favour of the more experienced Gehlot. But, the misstep of the attempt to bring down the Gehlot government in cahoots with the BJP leadership ensured that Pilot remained in the doghouse for a few years.

But, even his worst detractors acknowledge that Pilot has the uncanny knack of bouncing back, regaining the trust of the leadership. The only person whose trust he seems unable to win is Gehlot, who possibly sees the young Pilot as an opponent rather than a comrade-in-arms.

Will The Gandhi Family Forgive And Forget Gehlot’s Slight?

Politics is the art of the possible. That is it would be foolish to predict the final outcome of this so-called Gehlot versus high command tussle. But, as things stand, Gehlot has more to lose than the party.

Here Are Some Likely Scenarios

Gehlot forces the party’s hand and is allowed to continue as Chief Minister: In this case, somebody else will become the national president of the party. What happens if under Gehlot, the Congress, which will then remain badly divided between pro-Gehlot and pro-Pilot camps, lost next year’s Assembly elections? The entire blame for the loss will be laid on Gehlot’s doorsteps.

The party decides to keep the one person-one post principle in abeyance and allowed Gehlot to continue as Chief Minister while also becoming president: The possibility of this happening is bleak, especially after Rahul Gandhi’s recent statement in this regard.  

Gehlot becomes Congress chief but forces the party to replace him as Chief Minister with his loyalist and not Pilot: This may happen. But, this will also ensure that Pilot remains unhappy and in permanent rebellion mode. Next year, when Assembly elections are held, Pilot and his supporters could play spoilsport, ensuring a bad outing for the Congress. In such an eventuality, the blame would once again be laid at Gehlot’s doorsteps.

Gehlot becomes party chief while Pilot becomes Chief Minister: There are many who feel this could be the best way forward for the party. But, with battlelines drawn, this may not happen, ensuring the party suffers as a result, both in Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.

Gehlot becomes party chief while an MLA who is not his pick is his replacement as Chief Minister: Gehlot may not accept this since it would mean that he won’t control the state. But with some give-and-take, this option may be acceptable to both sides. The only problem with this is how will this person if such a person can actually be found, lead the party in next year’s Assembly elections.

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