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Did Rajasthan tussle scuttle Rahul's return?

By VIRENDRA KAPOOR
August 19, 2020 18:22 IST
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'Play safe and persist with an ailing Sonia Gandhi as interim chief and wait for an opportune moment to foist the crown prince yet again,' predicts Virendra Kapoor.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
 

Whether Vasuandhra Raje played spoilsport, reluctant to help Sachin Pilot emerge unscathed from the rebellion, or the young rebel developed cold feet after throwing the gauntlet to his bete noire, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, is hard to tell.

But what is fairly certain is that Rajasthan too is set to slip out of the grip of the Congress party sooner than later.

For, after the open display of mutual bitterness and venom it is hard for Gehlot and his former deputy to kiss and make up.

The cracks in the Congress edifice were clear from the day 18 months ago when the party high command nominated Gehlot for chief ministership.

Pilot had staked claim by hint of the hard work he had put in at the ground level as party chief for five years.

He felt he had earned the chief ministerial gaddi. He did note hide his disappointment.

And once in the saddle, Gehlot went about systematically marginalising his deputy, denying him a say either in the government or even in the party, though Pilot continued as Pradesh Committee Congress chief till his dismissal as deputy CM.

Pilot claims the trigger for the rebellion was the charge of sedition slapped against him and summons to appear before a special police cell Gehlot had constituted to go after the rebels.

Their phones were tapped, their movement watched.

Gehlot argues the special cell was formed only after he learnt of the conspiracy to topple him.

Whatever the truth, there is no denying in the immediate course Gehlot has outwitted his archrival.

Pilot has lost face regardless of the gloss he puts on his retreat.

Indeed, if he was ready to be persuaded by Priyanaka and Rahul Gandhi, why did he refuse to heed them when he first rebelled a month ago? The real reason for the meek surrender was the lack of numbers.

He was in no position to defeat Gehlot in the head count in the assembly.

Given Raje's disinterest, the BJP leadership could not have pressed the issue any further. But even if Pilot was in no position to form an alternative government, he would still have liked to ensure the ouster of his arch-rival.

That way, at least he would have vindicated himself.

Now back in sackcloth and ashes, he is at Gehlot's mercy.

Meanwhile, the Pilot rebellion-that-never-was seems to have forced the Gandhis not to risk further turbulence in the party.

After Sonia Gandhi completed one year as interim president, the Gandhis and their loyalists were all set to anoint Rahul as the de jure head.

A virtual meeting of the senior leaders was held only a few days earlier.

The issue of the new president was tangentially brought up, but without offering any clarity.

For the first time, there were veiled threats against bringing back Rahul as party chief.

Kapil Sibal crossed swords with Rahul's supporters.

While lamenting the dismal state of the party, the former central minister pressed for internal accountability and organisational elections, only to invite a sharp counter from a member of the Rahul brigade.

The latter blamed the 2019 defeat on the UPA government's poor performance.

With former prime minister Manmohan Singh in attendance, neither he nor any other member of his government, not even P Chidambaram, defended UPA 2.0.

There was no question of Sonia Gandhi ticking off her son's sycophantic courtiers.

Other senior leaders too preferred to remain silent. Yet this did not end speculation about Rahul's return.

The circumstances which actually forced the Gandhis to put off the return of the chosen heir was the turmoil in Rajasthan.

The loss of another state coinciding with the crown prince's return would have fuelled a further crisis of confidence in the party.

Protest even by a couple of leaders at Rahul's return could snowball into an open rebellion against 10 Janpath.

Look at the open hostilities between Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh and former PCC chief and Rajya Sabha member Pratap Singhy Bajwa.

Or the none-too-happy state of the Maharashtra Congress.

Without power and patronage, and little prospect of an early return to power in the foreseeable future, the Congress tends to implode.

The recent traffic away from the Congress in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, etc reflects the general mood of dejection in the party ranks.

Despite members of the Rahul brigade pressing for his return -- some of these had been rewarded with Rajya Sabha nominations and key positions in the party -- the Gandhis decided that discretion was better than valour.

Play safe and persist with an ailing Sonia Gandhi as interim chief and wait for an opportune moment to foist the crown prince yet again.

No way will the Family countenance a non-Gandhi at its helm, period.

Which means, expect drift and dithering in the affairs of the largest Opposition party to persist in the foreseeable future.

Demoralised and opportunistic Congressmen can hardly be blamed for searching greener pastures elsewhere.

The ruling BJP must be chuckling in its sleeves.

Despite a lot for it to account for, there is no one to ask piercing questions -- while the almost daily tweets of Rahul criticising Modi even his party men seem not to take very seriously.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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