Raising the bar

The rally against price rise in Jaipur on Sunday reinforced Gehlot’s image as one of the tallest leaders of Congress

The Congress rally in Jaipur against price rise reinforced the stature of Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot as the tallest regional leader in the party. The Congress, which is in power in Rajasthan, Punjab and Chhattisgarh only, got the national amplification that it so desperately needs. After the unsuccessful bid by former deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot and legislators in his camp to unseat Gehlot as CM in August 2020, the Rajasthan chief minister had proved that there is no one in the Congress who is a bigger politician in terms of keeping his flock together. During his earlier two terms – in 1998 and 2008 – he got the support of even the Bahujan Samaj Party legislators. This was a masterstroke in state politics. After his stellar performance in the last Assembly election in Gujarat, Gehlot’s stocks increased in the party and also in national politics. So much so that there was a time when people began saying Gehlot deserved to lead the party. But people close to the politician know that Gehlot can do anything but will never go against the Gandhi family. He was among the party leaders who raised the demand for making Rahul Gandhi the president again. A series of tweets to clear the air on Rahul Gandhi’s statement on Hindu and Hinduwadi is a proof of Gehlot’s loyalty to the first family of the Congress.

Coming back to the Jaipur rally, the turnout must have warmed the cockles of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. In the three states where the Congress is in power, Rajasthan is the biggest in terms of gross state domestic product and also in terms of the MPs that it sends to the lower house. (Rajasthan has 25 LS seats as against 13 in Punjab and 11 in Chhatisgarh.) Among the three CMs – Gehlot, Charanjit Singh Channi and Bhupesh Baghel – Gehlot is the most senior and tallest. Maybe this explains the reason why the party chose a venue in Rajasthan for the December 12 rally against price rise. Obviously, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi were confident of a big turnout in Rajasthan. Political observers say Gehlot is not Rahul Gandhi’s favourite. The former Congress president has been known to be close to Sachin Pilot but when the party got the majority in the 2018 Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Rahul Gandhi couldn’t make Pilot the CM even though it was under Pilot’s leadership that the party went into the polls. It is said that Sonia Gandhi prefers loyalist and old timer Gehlot over a young and inexperienced Pilot. Priyanka Gandhi also has the same liking as that of Sonia Gandhi. The mother-daughter duo ensured that Gehlot ran away with the CM’s seat, leaving a disgruntled Pilot fuming. The young leader got so desperate for the CM’s throne that he agreed to revolt against his own government and camped in the National Capital Region for several days in the hope that the BJP will make him the CM. That the Independents and the BSP legislators put a spanner in Pilot’s plan and consolidated Gehlot’s leadership is history now.

By bringing a large crowd to the Jaipur rally and by coming to the party’s rescue when the Opposition ran away with Rahul Gandhi’s statement on Hindu and Hinduwadi, Gehlot proved that he is among the best politicians that the Congress today has. Gehlot explained, in a series of tweets on Sunday evening, that Hindus follow truth, nonviolence, love, brotherhood and tolerance and don’t hate anyone. Hinduwadi, on the other hand, believe in spreading violence, intolerance and hate, Gehlot tweeted. The difference between the Hindu and the pseudo Hinduwadi is the difference between Gandhi Ji and Godse.

One big political message from the Jaipur 12 rally is that the Congress can come back to power in Rajasthan under Gehlot’s leadership breaking the trend in the desert state in which power alternates between the Congress and the BJP. People in Rajasthan have already started saying – even though state elections are a good two years away – that Gehlot can break the trend and return to power. 

Unfortunately, Gehlot also gets the blame for reducing the party’s tally in Assembly elections following his governments. In the 2003 elections, Congress was reduced to 56 from 153 seats in the 1993 elections. Similarly, the Congress tally fell from 96 in 2008 to 21 in 2013. But in his third term, the Jodhpur politician seems to be heading for an election in which he will break his own dubious record also. 

Two years is a long time in an election – elections change in a matter of hours in India – but if the party can actually return to power under Gehlot’s leadership, it will make him the obvious choice for the Opposition leader who can offer a competition to Modi in the national politics even though the Congress’s future in national politics looks bleak, Gehlot’s stocks in the party will only rise and rise.

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