Gehlot’s broadside against his former deputy took even the Congress by surprise. The grand old party called the chief minister’s attack ‘unexpected’ and said Pilot was a “youthful, energetic, popular and a charismatic leader”.
This is not the first time that Gehlot has challenged his party’s leadership over Pilot. In fact, Gehlot has not missed any opportunity to mock Pilot and play down his ambitions for the top post in the state. However, Congress seems reluctant to take any precipitate action.
Gehlot and his loyalists had in October this year successfully scuttled a Congress plan, which apparently had the backing of the Gandhis, to shift the chief minister to Delhi as party president and make Pilot the chief minister of Rajasthan ahead of assembly elections next year.
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, who was then the party’s observer in the state and was tasked to oversee this change, had a first-hand experience of the infighting in the state unit.
Kharge and Ajay Maken, who was the party in charge of Rajasthan, could not succeed in convening a meeting of the Congress legislature party as over 90 MLAs loyal to the chief minister refused to toe the party line on change of leadership in the state. The party took strict note of the incident and three senior MLAs were show-caused. But the Congress leadership is yet to act against them.
This inaction eventually prompted Maken to quit as party in charge of the state.
Since 2020, when Pilot led an unsuccessful rebellion against Gehlot’s government with 18 other MLAs, the two state leaders have openly traded barbs at each other.
Earlier this month, Pilot had targeted Gehlot and raised questions about his praise for Prime Minister Modi. His loyalists followed it up by reiterating their demand for Pilot to be made the chief minister.
With Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra set to enter the state, both the warring factions are trying their best to put pressure on the party leadership.
The Congress says the party needs both Gehlot and Pilot in Rajasthan. But with Gehlot not willing to cede even an inch to his rival, it remains to be seen how Kharge manages to strike a balance between a defiant Gehlot and an impatient Pilot in the poll-bound state.
Kharge needs to settle this Congress vs Congress fight before it is too late for the party.