Team Gehlot in the wrong, says Congress.; CM denies role in revolt

Sonia Gandhi asks for written report from Kharge and Maken; party rejects demand of protesting legislators that a one-line resolution authorising the Congress president to nominate new Rajasthan CM should be applicable after October 19

September 26, 2022 02:20 pm | Updated September 27, 2022 12:23 pm IST - New Delhi:

Congress leader Ajay Maken addressing the media after meeting Sonia Gandhi in connection with the crisis in Rajasthan, in New Delhi on Monday, September 26, 2022.

Congress leader Ajay Maken addressing the media after meeting Sonia Gandhi in connection with the crisis in Rajasthan, in New Delhi on Monday, September 26, 2022. | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

The open rebellion by Rajasthan lawmakers loyal to Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has derailed the plan of the Gandhi family to field Mr. Gehlot as a candidate in the Congress presidential elections and appoint Sachin Pilot as his successor for the Chief Minister’s post.

On September 26, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who is learnt to be annoyed by the developments, asked for a written report after Mallikarjun Kharge and Ajay Maken briefed her on the Sunday rebellion at her residence.

Both were sent as observers to Jaipur to attend a meeting of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) to decide on Mr. Gehlot’s successor. Party general secretary (organisation) K.C. Venugopal, who was in Kerala with the Bharat Jodo Yatra, was summoned to the meeting. Asserting that the timing and venue of the CLP meeting were decided by Mr. Gehlot, Mr. Maken, briefing presspersons after an hour-long meeting with Ms. Gandhi, said “the parallel meeting convened by the MLAs of the Gehlot camp was an act of indiscipline”.

Distancing himself from the revolt when over 90 MLAs refused to attend the CLP meet and handed over the resignation to Speaker C.P. Joshi, the Rajasthan Chief Minister is learnt to have told Mr. Kharge that “what happened shouldn’t have happened”, but reiterated that he had no role in it. Mr. Maken, however, did not meet with the Chief Minister.

While the episode has prompted many of the Gandhi family loyalists to pitch for another contender for the presidential polls, sources said the issue of leadership change in Rajasthan could be put on hold until the process of filing the nomination ends on September 30.

Many in the party are angry that Sunday’s episode not only embarrassed the party leadership but also gave an opportunity to the BJP to target the Bharat Jodo Yatra.

The leadership issue not only deepened the fault lines in the Rajasthan Congress but also triggered a war of words between Gehlot loyalists and All India Congress Committee (AICC) observers.

Mr. Maken said that after submitting their resignations before the Speaker, the protesting MLAs sent their emissaries — Shanti Kumar Dhariwal, Pratap Singh Khachariyawas and Mahesh Joshi — to put their demands before the CLP meeting.

“They said the one-line resolution to authorise the Congress president to nominate a new CLP leader should be applicable after October 19,” Mr. Maken said. This, he said, was rejected because it was felt that “it would lead to conflict of interest since Mr. Gehlot, who is a front runner for the president’s post, cannot empower himself by sending in such a resolution”.

“Second, they insisted that Mr. Gehlot’s successor should be picked from the 102 MLAs and not from the other group. To which we said we will speak to each MLA on one-to-one basis. But they insisted that the MLAs would meet us in groups,” Mr. Maken said.

“It is unfortunate that after all this, the CLP meeting could not take place. When the CLP official meeting is kept, no parallel meeting should take place and it primarily amounts to indiscipline,” he added.

Mr. Dhariwal, the Cabinet Minister in whose house all the legislators were holed up, hit back at Mr. Maken and accused him of canvassing for Mr. Pilot.

“It was 100% a conspiracy to remove the CM [Ashok Gehlot] and general secretary in-charge was a part of it. I am not talking about anyone else, no charge on Mr. Kharge as he is non-partisan but only the General Secretary in-charge [Mr. Maken],” said Mr. Dhariwal.

In the midst of allegations and counter-allegations, Ms. Gandhi’s meeting with Madhya Pradesh Congress chief Kamal Nath triggered speculation that he could be a contender for the party’s top job. He denied it but it’s not clear if he would choose to mediate between the ‘high command’ and Mr. Gehlot, with whom he shares a close equation.

As the Rajasthan crisis intensified and cast its shadow on the presidential polls, names of more loyalists like Digvijaya Singh, Kumari Selja and Mukul Wasnik have come up as contenders. A section of the party also cited the episode to argue that the Gandhis should rethink on their strategy of staying out of the presidential race.

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