Ashok Gehlot out of Congress president race, Digvijaya Singh in fray

Party general secretary K.C. Venugopal says decision on Rajasthan Chief Minister in a day or two as Sachin Pilot calls on Sonia Gandhi

September 29, 2022 12:41 pm | Updated September 30, 2022 03:56 pm IST - New Delhi

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and senior Congress leader K.C. Venugopal after a meeting with party president Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi on September 29, 2022.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and senior Congress leader K.C. Venugopal after a meeting with party president Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi on September 29, 2022. | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

Emerging out of Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s 10 Janpath residence after an hour-long meeting, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot on Thursday owned moral responsibility for the political crisis in his State, announced his withdrawal from the Congress presidential race and asserted that Ms. Gandhi will decide his continuance as Chief Minister.

Party general secretary (organisation) K.C. Venugopal, who had two rounds of meetings with the party chief, said Ms. Gandhi would take that decision in “a day or two”, but did not indicate if that could see Mr. Gehlot stepping down.

With Mr. Gehlot’s rival Sachin Pilot calling on Ms. Gandhi on Thursday evening, speculation was rife of a possible change of guard in Rajasthan. Sidestepping the question of leadership, Mr. Pilot told presspersons that he was confident that all “positive steps to work collectively and win the Rajasthan Assembly polls in 2023 will be taken”.

Advisory to lawmakers

Mr. Venugopal issued an advisory to Rajasthan lawmakers not to raise internal matters in any public forum and not to target any leader or else they “will have to face disciplinary action as per the party Constitution”.

On a day of dramatic developments, former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister and senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh too joined the electoral contest by picking up a nomination form.

Shashi Tharoor, Lok Sabha member for Thiruvananthapuram, is the other contender who has picked up a form. With a Friday deadline of 3 p.m. for nominations to close, Mr. Tharoor and Mr. Singh announced that they would file their papers by the afternoon.

Sources, however, told The Hindu that a surprise third candidate, who has the Gandhi family’s endorsement, could not be ruled out as party treasurer Pawan Bansal had already collected two nomination forms on Tuesday.

Mukul Wasnik, one of the longest serving general secretaries of the party and a member of the ginger group or G-23 that pushed for internal reforms two years ago, has emerged as a serious contender.

Other loyalists such as Kumari Selja and Mallikarjun Kharge are also said to be in contention.

‘Apologised to Sonia’

“I have apologised to Sonia ji because a simple resolution, which is our tradition and which we always pass, could not be passed. Whatever be the reasons, as a CLP leader, I could not get the resolution passed and it is my moral responsibility...Under these circumstances, I have decided not to contest the [presidential] polls,” Mr. Gehlot had earlier told reporters after his meeting with Ms. Gandhi.

“The events that happened [on Sunday] have shaken all of us. Only I know how hurt I am because a message went that I want to remain as CM,” he added.

A section of the party also argued that the Gandhis, after establishing their supreme authority, could ask Mr. Gehlot to reconsider. As per an earlier plan of the high command, Mr. Gehlot was scheduled to file his nomination papers on September 28 and Mr. Pilot was to be announced the high command’s choice to head the Rajasthan government once Mr. Gehlot stepped down.

To give effect to this plan, a Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting was convened in Jaipur on Sunday and Mr. Kharge and AICC’s Rajasthan in-charge Ajay Maken were appointed as central observers. The MLAs were expected to pass a one-line resolution to authorise Ms. Gandhi to choose Mr. Gehlot’s successor. But the plan derailed as lawmakers loyal to him refused to back the high command’s choice.

The Congress responded by issuing show-cause notices to three Gehlot aides — Cabinet Minister Shanti Dhariwal, Minister and Chief Whip Mahesh Joshi and Dharmendra Rathore — but spared Mr. Gehlot.

However, in a clear show of defiance, Mr. Rathore, who heads the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation, accused an aide of Mr. Pilot, Ved Prakash Solanki, of hobnobbing with BJP leaders.

“I will provide proof on who is a traitor and who is loyal. It will come before everyone. Mr. Solanki had met BJP president Satish Poonia at a hotel during zila parishad election,” Mr. Rathore said and questioned why Mr. Maken did not act against Mr. Solanki.

“It is advised that all Congress leaders at any level should refrain from making public statements against other leaders or about the party’s internal matters. Strict disciplinary action will be initiated under the provisions of the constitution of the Indian National Congress if any violation of this advisory is made,” said Mr. Venugopal .

G-23 leaders meet

Some G-23 leaders like Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Anand Sharma and Manish Tewari met at Mr. Sharma’s residence to take stock of the elections after Mr. Gehlot’s announcement of withdrawal.

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