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Gehlot may expand cabinet to include Pilot loyalists

By Aditi Phadnis
August 19, 2020 13:13 IST
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While Pilot, who declared a week ago that he was placing no conditions for returning to the government, reportedly doesn't want a berth for himself, he has sought places for his followers. Aditi Phadnis reports.

 

IMAGE: Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, right, Congress leaders Sachin Pilot, left, and K C Venugopal pose for a photograph, in Jaipur. Photograph: @kcvenugopalmp/Twitter

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot might have a Cabinet reshuffle thrust upon him.

With one of his ministers in a coma in hospital and another recently appointed chief of the Rajasthan unit of the Congress, he will have to undertake an expansion not just to fill the vacancies in the council of ministers but also to accommodate the claims of the 'rebels'.

The maximum number of ministers Gehlot can have is 30.

Right now he has 22: Of these, Bhanwarlal Meghwal is critically ill in hospital, and Govind Singh Dotasra has been made chief of the Congress in Rajasthan. Three other ministers, including Sachin Pilot, Vishvendra Singh, and Ramesh Chand Meena were sacked.

The Pilot group is now asking that some of them be accommodated in the Cabinet.

While Pilot, who declared a week ago that he was placing no conditions for returning to the government, reportedly doesn't want a berth for himself, he has sought places for his followers.

His priority is his two most loyal supporters Vishvendra Singh and Meena, along with two other senior Congress leaders who sided with him: Hemaram Choudhary and former Speaker Deependra Singh Shekhawat. And, he would also like two positions of ministers of state. Gehlot is expected to see this as empire-building on Pilot’s part but will have to yield ground if New Delhi insists. But he has his own political compulsions.

He will have to reward Independents like Sanyam Lodha who stood loyally with him through the crisis. And the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) MLAs who crossed over to the Congress will also have to be accommodated.

What will follow is a fragile balancing of competing interests. But this much is clear: That if he wants to keep his government, Gehlot will have to take some of the rebels in the government and work to wean them away from Pilot. At the same time, Pilot, having won the first round by forcing the replacement of the general secretary in-charge of Rajasthan – earlier Avinash Pandey and now Ajay Maken — will have a friend in Delhi he can call in case Gehlot tries to queer his political pitch again.

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Aditi Phadnis
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