Fri. Jul 19th, 2024


The Jaadugar of Rajasthan politics, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, has pulled out of his top hat a fresh trick ahead of the state election due later this year. Taking advantage of the infighting within the BJP over its presumptive chief minister, Gehlot claimed former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje helped save his government during a rebellion led by Sachin Pilot. He also targeted Pilot and his supporters by suggesting they took kickbacks from the BJP to try and bring down his government. By doing so, though, Gehlot laid himself open to Pilot’s criticism of going soft on Raje’s corruption cases.

Speaking at a rally in Dholpur, Gehlot said, “Vasundhara Raje and former assembly speaker Kailash Meghwal said they don’t have a tradition of toppling an elected government through money power. MLA Shobharani Kushwah heard them and didn’t support those people who were trying to topple the government in 2020.”

Sachin Pilot, the then Deputy Chief Minister of Rajasthan, led a rebellion in July 2020 along with 18 MLAs, demanding the chief minister’s job per a rotational power-sharing deal. Pilot couldn’t win the support of enough MLAs for the BJP to back him, and the month-long crisis ended after the intervention of the Gandhis.

Vasundhara Raje vehemently denied Gehlot’s allegations, which can weaken her claim to the top post. She called it a conspiracy and alleged that the Chief Minister was the “mastermind of horse-trading”. She alleged that Gehlot had bribed MLAs in 2008 and 2018 when his government was in a minority, and had merged BSP MLAs with the Congress. Mr Gehlot, she added, had insulted her “like no one else in Rajasthan”. She also defended Amit Shah, with whom she doesn’t presumably share a great rapport. 

Pilot expectedly mounted an all-out attack. He claimed he would not quit the party as it would ruin its chances of winning Rajasthan. Instead, he announced a “Jan Sangharsh Yatra” from Ajmer to Jaipur “to highlight corruption”. He ridiculed Gehlot saying that it seemed his leader is Vasundhara Raje and not Sonia Gandhi.

Motive behind Gehlot’s charge

Gehlot is trying to kill two birds with one stone. 

He knows well that Vasundhara Raje is the only leader in the BJP with state-wide appeal. If she is the BJP’s chief minister candidate, then Gehlot will face a tough battle. He is trying to scuttle even the tiniest chance of that happening. The BJP has been harping on fighting the election under a combined leadership of state and national leaders, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the face. This has worked for the BJP in state after state.

But in a recent interview to News18, Home Minister Amit Shah mentioned that the party has not decided on its chief minister candidate yet.

With this statement, Gehlot hopes to deepen the fissures in the Rajasthan BJP, which has a multitude of aspirants to the top job – Vasundhara Raje, Rajendra Rathore, Satish Poonia, Gajendra Shekhawat, CP Joshi, Om Birla, to Rajyavardhan Rathore and Ashwini Vaishnaw.

The anti-Vasundhara camp has plenty of ammo to target her now.

Mr Gehlot attributed the rebellion in the Congress to a BJP plot. “(Union ministers) Amit Shah, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, and Dharmendra Pradhan conspired together to topple my government,” he said.

“They distributed money in Rajasthan and they are not taking the money back now. I am surprised why they are not demanding the money back from them (the MLAs),” Mr Gehlot remarked.

He also took a dig at the Congress MLAs who revolted against him, saying they should “return the money” so they can carry out their duty without any pressure. “I have even told the MLAs that whatever money they have taken, Rs 10 crore or Rs 20 crore, if you have spent anything, I will give that part or I will get it from AICC (All India Congress Committee),” he said.

Gehlot was again aiming at his rival Sachin Pilot, accusing him of consorting with the BJP to bring down his government. In a way, it reinforces the case against Pilot as Chief Minister. It is also a warning for rebel MLAs – some of whom have returned to Gehlot – that they should fall in line, or else he could file bribery cases. He is trying to weaken whatever is left of the “Pilot camp”.

These arguments may convince Gehlot’s supporters that he pulled off a masterstroke by making both Pilot and Raje look guilty of “anti-party” activities.

But these allegations also appear to prove what Pilot has been saying all along – that Gehlot is soft on Vasundhara Raje and has not acted against corruption allegations because of a secret understanding. Pilot sat on a fast against corruption last month, targeting the Chief Minister over his “inaction” on charges against Vasundhara Raje.

Now he has announced a “Jan Sangharsh Yatra” from May 11.

Pilot is not alone – there is a wider perception in the state that Gehlot and Raje have a tacit arrangement, that they are content to form government by turns, not meddle in each other’s politics and help each other stay ahead of in-house rivals. Some voters are also of the opinion that the 25-year rule of Gehlot and Raje combined is among the primary reasons Rajasthan is backward.

Gehlot’s 3-Point Plan 

Gehlot’s plan in the state is centered around three points – 1) Welfarism 2) Visibility and communication 3) Split in opposition – to break the revolving door mechanism, learning from case studies from Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Punjab.

A united BJP will be a tougher challenge for Gehlot, more so if Vasundhara Raje is declared the face.

However, Gehlot’s constant barbs against Pilot can push the party to a split just before the election. Without Sachin Pilot, the Congress may not have it easy in the Rajasthan election.

(Amitabh Tiwari is a political strategist and commentator. In his earlier avatar he was a corporate and investment banker.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.


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