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Pilot's back and Gehlot's headache continues

By PRAKASH BHANDARI
August 12, 2020 16:25 IST
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The coming weeks will be a tightrope walk for Gehlot who has 100 loyalists MLAs waiting to be rewarded on one side and the dissidents who wanted to be rehabilitated on the other, observes Prakash Bhandari.

IMAGE: Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot addresses the media at his residence in Jaipur. Photograph: PTI Photo
 

The 19 dissidents led by Sachin Pilot, who rebelled against the Congress government, are unlikely to get ministerial berths or any plum assignments.

The 100 faithful MLAs, who sided with Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and stayed together have vehemently opposed their re-entry into the party fold.

On Tuesday, August 11, evening when the Congress Legislature Party met at a Jaisalmer hotel, the 100 odd legislators unanimously declared there should be no place for the rebels in the government or in the party organisation.

The rebels should be taught a lesson, the loyalists demanded, and a precedent should be set to avoid a recurrence of such revolts.

Gehlot, following the return of the rebels at the behest of Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, with an active role played by senior Congress functionaries Ahmed Patel and K C Venugopal, has saved his government.

He is indebted to the flock of 100 loyalists who were not lured by the lavish offers of money to switch sides.

Gehlot overwhelmingly thanked the loyalists at the CLP meeting even as the loyalist MLAs revealed their anger against the dissidents.

Sanyam Lodha -- an Independent MLA who supports the Congress government and was earlier a two-time Congress MLA -- was most vocal and so was senior minister Shanti Dhariwal.

The first task before Gehlot is to face the assembly session.

Thereafter, the dissidents will demand their pound of flesh that will be at the cost of the 100 loyal MLAs.

The big question is have the rebels returned to the Congress fold with some conditions?

If yes, what are the conditions and who will ensure that the conditions are fulfilled?

Gehlot was against any truce with the dissidents. He was sure of victory in the event of a floor test as he had secured the support of half a dozen dissidents. That was enough to save his government.

He was particularly against Pilot's return as the former deputy chief minister could remain a thorn in the chief minister's flesh.

The Gandhi brother and sister were firm that Pilot should return along with his dissidents and this proved that Pilot has a special place in their hearts.

There was no question of punishing Pilot and it took Ahmed Patel and Venugopal to convince Gehlot that Pilot would have to be accepted.

Gehlot had strong reason to prevent the re-entry of Pilot and his group as he wants to reward the long list of loyalists.

The return of the dissidents has jeopardised his plans to reward the loyalists.

The Gandhis, who wanted Pilot to return to the party fold, made the young politician agree that he will not stake a claim to the chief ministership.

Pilot, it is learnt, made Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi agree that two senior dissidents -- former minister and a former leader of the Opposition Hemaram Choudhry and former speaker Deependra Singh -- will be made deputy chief ministers.

Choudhry is a Jat and Deependra Singh, a Rajput.

But Gehlot wants to give these positions to the loyalists.

During his second term as chief minister between 2008 to 2013, Gehlot had two deputy chief ministers: Kamla, a Jat, and the late Banwari Lal Berwa, a scheduled caste.

Sonia Gandhi has set up a committee of three Congress leaders to hear the grievances of Pilot and the other dissidents.

Ahmed Patel and K C Venugopal are said to be its members, the third place going to Randeep Surjewala who was active during the entire Rajasthan crisis.

Gehlot has some breathing time till the committee submits its report to Sonia Gandhi, the interim Congress president.

Gehlot wants the issue of rehabilitation of the dissident and expansion of his ministry to be shelved for some time.

A delay would give Gehlot an opportunity to persuade some more MLAs from Pilot's camp to change sides.

The coming weeks will be a tightrope walk for Gehlot who has 100 loyalists MLAs waiting to be rewarded on one side and the dissidents who wanted to be rehabilitated on the other.

Gehlot will have to make cautious moves as any imbalance could lead to the formation of another dissident group and its number may be more than the number Pilot mustered.

Jadugar Gehlot will have to show his magical acumen to save his government from that fate.

Prakash Bhandari is a veteran political commentator based in Jaipur.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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