Rajasthan rebellion shows Gandhis’ diminishing clout

The party may need powerful regional leaders to turn things around and win elections, but strong regional satraps don’t necessarily follow diktats empowering the Congress high command to take decisions for them

October 09, 2022 10:18 pm | Updated October 10, 2022 09:51 am IST - New Delhi

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot with supporters in Jodhpur on October 5, 2022.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot with supporters in Jodhpur on October 5, 2022. | Photo Credit: PTI

The recent episode of Rajasthan Congress MLAs rebelling in favour of Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has exposed a contradiction that the party has been grappling with for some time now.

The party, it is argued, needs powerful regional leaders in States to turn things around and win elections. But strong regional satraps don't necessarily follow the diktats of passing a "one-line" resolution to empower the Congress president and the high command to take decisions for them.

In Rajasthan, the refusal of the MLAs, loyal to Mr. Gehlot, to endorse the high command's choice of Sachin Pilot as a chief ministerial candidate changed the course of the Congress president's elections. While it forced Mr. Gehlot to drop out of the presidential race, it prompted party veteran Mallikarjun Kharge to join the race against Lok Sabha member Shashi Tharoor.

Though there is speculation that Rajasthan may see a change of guard post October 19, when the Congress gets a new party president, there is still a question mark on whether the high command can enforce its writ over the MLAs, the majority of whom continue to back Mr. Gehlot.

"The tussle in Rajasthan is a reflection of the transition of power in the Congress party and the Gandhi family as the decision making is moving from Sonia Gandhi to Rahul Gandhi. These fights will continue until such time when the leadership issue finally settles down," said Professor of Political Science Naresh Dadhich, who retired as as the Vice-Chancellor of Kota Open University

Over the past one year, be it Chhattisgarh or Haryana, regional leaders have either asserted themselves or ignored suggestions from the high command.

Chhattisgarh Minister T.S. Singhdeo reminded the high command several times of a 2018 agreement, according to which the post of Chief Minister was meant to be rotated between him and Bhupesh Baghel. However, with a majority of the MLAs backing Mr. Baghel openly, the high command has been unable to deliver on the rotational formula.

The top leadership has also been wary about pushing through its decisions after the botched-up experiment in Punjab to unseat Captain Amarinder Singh (Retd.) and replace him with Dalit leader Charanjit Singh Channi.

The Punjab rout, with Mr. Channi losing from two Assembly constituencies, further led to the erosion of political capital of the top leadership, especially the Gandhi family, since they were believed to be behind the Punjab decision.

The recent Rajya Sabha elections too saw the diminishing clout of the high command as Ajay Maken, who was considered about to be elected, failed to win the polls. And this was despite the fact that Haryana strongman Bhupinder Singh Hooda had assured the leadership of a victory.

Earlier, Mr. Hooda managed to ease out a Gandhi family loyalist, Kumari Selja, from the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief's post by citing the support of the majority of MLAs.

Will these instances force a non-Gandhi to adopt a more collective approach to leadership? Both the contenders, Mr. Kharge and Mr. Tharoor, have already talked about a more consultative process of decision-making.

"Organisational restructuring is a complicated thing. Rahul Gandhi has done the right thing by launching the Bharat Jodo Yatra and communicating with the electorate directly. Once he starts winning elections, the leadership debate will be settled for good," Dr. Dadhich said.

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