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Ashok Gehlot marginalised Pilot, Congress failed to settle issues in Rajasthan



The simmering tension between Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and his deputy Sachin Pilot reached a tipping point when the latter got summoned by his state police on July 10 for an investigation into a plot for destabilising the government.

It underlined, according to a senior Congress leader, the deep distrust the Rajasthan chief minister had towards his able deputy chief minister and a bid to marginalise Pilot in the party and in the government that was formed in 2018.

A similar notice was sent to Gehlot but pilot loyalists said that the deputy chief minister felt he was the target of the probe.

There were several bids to undercut Pilot in the past two years. But the Congress central leadership chose to ignore the warning signals. Finally, the party formed a coordination committee for Rajasthan in January this year but that panel so far has held just one meeting.

The Congress’ inability to nip problems at the bud was aptly expressed by Kapil Sibal. As news of Sachin Pilot screamed headlines, Sibal tweeted, “Worried for our party… Will we wake up only after the horses have bolted from our stables ?” Just four months ago, the Congress lost its government in Madhya Pradesh in a similar script: party veterans sidelining Jyotiraditya Scindia.

To be sure, the start of the new Congress government in the desert state was not exactly a smooth affair. Pilot, who left his family in Delhi to sweat it out, led the Congress campaign as the president of the party to victory, but Gehlot outstepped him to become the chief minister, primarily weighing on caste equations.

Party insiders added that for the past few months, the Gehlot camp has been demanding a change of guard in the Rajasthan Congress in a bid to remove Pilot from the state president’s post. They have started lobbying with Congress functionaries in Delhi that a new state chief is required (Pilot is holding the position for 6 years) before the ensuing panchayat election in the state.

Even as then Congress president Rahul Gandhi met the two leaders over several rounds to hammer out a solution, the uneasy equation between the Congress’ old generation and the new generation came to the fore.

Last year, chief minister’s son Vaibhav Gehlot lost the Lok Sabha election, and senior Gehlot lost no time to blame Pilot for the defeat. He publicly stated that “Pilot should take responsibility” even as many party leaders questioned the chief minister’s inability to ensure victory for his son.

Earlier this year, Pilot had expressed concern about deteriorating law and order situation in some areas of the state – seen as a comment on Gehlot who holds the home portfolio in the government.

A few months ago, the Rajya Sabha elections too saw tension rising between the two. Gehlot fielded Neeraj Dangi, a secretary of Congress party, for the coveted Rajya Sabha seat. Pilot wanted a bigger, well-known name but Gehlot stuck to his choice. And then, ahead of the polls, Gehlot alleged that Congress MLAs are being lured, indicating the party might lose a seat. The results proved to be otherwise and Congress secured seats for both candidates.

Pilot, who was credited for the victory, maintained that “Any kind of doubts and suspicions spread around earlier were baseless.”

The death of 107 children in Kota also brought out the difference between the two in which Pilot maintained that the state government needs to do more to prevent such incidents.

Another party insider points out that Pilot’s people are not being rewards. Many posts for political appointment are lying vacant and Gehlot is in no hurry to accommodate Pilot loyalists in these posts.

Last month, at a function at party headquarters to observe Sanjay Gandhi’s death anniversary, Pilot announced that as the party president in Rajasthan, he owes it to the Congress grassroot workers who worked very hard and therefore they need to be rewarded.


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