Seeking to work out a “peace formula” between two warring party leaders, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge on May 29 met Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his former Deputy Chief Minister, Sachin Pilot, in the presence of senior party leader Rahul Gandhi.
After a marathon four-hour meeting, the Congress announced that the two leaders will contest the elections unitedly and released pictures of the closed door meeting in which Mr Gehlot and Mr Pilot looked relaxed and smiling.
The first meeting was between Mr. Gehlot and the Congress chief at the latter’s residence at around 6 p.m., along with Mr. Gandhi and party general secretary (organistaion) K.C. Venugopal. Then, after about half an hour, the party’s in-charge for Rajasthan, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, joined in.
More than two hours later, Mr. Pilot joined the meeting that went on until 10.15 p.m. This is the first time in many months that the Chief Minister and Mr. Pilot were meeting each other in the presence of the party’s top leadership, and comes close on the heels of Mr. Pilot’s ‘ultimatum’ to the Gehlot Government. Mr. Pilot had threatened to launch a State-wide agitation if his demands, including one for a high-level inquiry into the alleged scams under former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s Government, were not met by the end of the month.
“The meeting went on for four hours and both leaders have decided to fight the elections unitedly and we will win against the BJP. Both the leaders have agreed to the proposal and have left it to the high command,” Mr. Venugopal told reporters after the meeting.
Mr. Venugopal did not specify what the proposal was, various options were speculated upon, including the proposal to make Mr. Pilot the Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief once again while Mr. Gehlot continued as the Chief Minister.
However, before the meeting started, when reporters asked Mr. Gehlot to comment on any possible formula to take Mr. Pilot on board, he made his opposition is clear. “As far as I know, there is no such tradition in the Congress where any leader demands something and the party high command offers to give that position. We have not heard of such a formula ever,” Mr. Gehlot told reporters in Delhi.
“Never has such a thing happened in the Congress so far and neither will it happen in the future. The Congress party and the high command is very strong and no leader or worker has the courage to demand any position. It does not happen like that,” he added.
Mr. Gehlot’s confidence stems from a recent opinion poll carried out between May 20 and 25 across 200 Assembly constituencies that claimed 69% of respondents still trusted the Congress under him, and his personal rating (69%) was double that of Mr. Pilot (31%).
Mr. Kharge, and Mr. Gandhi, who was scheduled to depart for the U.S. late on Monday night/early on Tuesday, held a series of meetings with leaders of poll-bound States, including Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Kharge, Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Venugopal met leaders from the Madhya Pradesh Congress, including former Chief Ministers Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh, among others. Poll strategist Sunil Kanugolu, who played a key role in the Congress’ win in Karnataka, and All India Congress Committee (AICC) in-charge J.P. Aggarwal were among those present.
“We had a lengthy discussion. It is our internal assessment that in Madhya Pradesh, we are going to get 150 seats. What we did in Karnataka, we are going to repeat that [in Madhya Pradesh],” Mr. Gandhi told reporters after the meeting.
While Mr. Nath evaded a question on being the party’s chief ministerial face, he said, “All are of the opinion that we will enter the poll fray unitedly.”
Asked if the party would provide guarantees as it had in Karnataka, Mr. Nath said that a beginning had been made in Madhya Pradesh with the ‘Nari Samman Yojana’. “We have done some and some will be announced in the future. We can’t fire all the bullets in one go,” Mr. Nath said.