Months ahead of the Assembly elections, the ruling Congress is facing an internal rebellion in Rajasthan. Party leader Sachin Pilot has revived his campaign to become Chief Minister, replacing Ashok Gehlot. Mr. Gehlot is in no mood to yield, and party MLAs are largely with him. Mr. Pilot was the State party chief during the 2018 election and hoped to be the Chief Minister, when the Congress won. That is not how it turned out, and Mr. Pilot settled for the post of Deputy Chief Minister while remaining party chief. In July 2020 he rebelled openly, demanding the top post for himself. That ended up very badly for him — he lost both posts, while Mr. Gehlot tightened his grip over the party and the government in the process. Last year, Mr. Gehlot emerged as the consensus candidate for the post of Congress president, rekindling Mr. Pilot’s hopes of succeeding him in Rajasthan. But Congress MLAs in Rajasthan revolted, this time against the move to install Mr. Pilot as the Chief Minister. In the end, Mr. Gehlot stayed on as Chief Minister and Mallikarjun Kharge became president of the party. Mr. Pilot is trying his luck again by ratcheting up pressure on the party and Mr. Gehlot.
Mr. Gehlot is a seasoned and astute politician with his ear to the ground. He has built a political narrative around fresh modes of welfare and social justice, in the process trying to make himself seemingly irreplaceable. Mr. Gehlot worked towards enhancing his popularity through compassionate management of the pandemic, measures to mitigate the impact of price rise, and, most recently, with a new law that expands access to health care. Whether all this will yield the Congress votes is to be seen. However, changes at the top at the eleventh hour are more likely to damage the prospects of the party at the hustings. The Congress does not need to look further than its most recent disaster in Punjab, in 2021, where it effected a change at the top on the eve of the Assembly election. With the Bharatiya Janata Party not exactly battle ready, the Congress can hope to win a second consecutive term in Rajasthan, if only it could put its own house in order. At 45, Mr. Pilot has age on his side, and he could be persuaded to reorient his ambitions accordingly. Mr. Gehlot should show sagacity, Mr. Pilot patience, and the high command leadership, for the Congress to advance in Rajasthan. As the election approaches, the situation might get worse before it gets better. The high stakes might prompt one or the other to overplay their hand.