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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Pilot’s crash landing may not suffice for Congress in Rajasthan

Flying inexperience over the badlands of politics compelled the Congress’ fighter Pilot, Sachin, to crash land on home terrain. The pink-slipped Rajasthan deputy chief minister and PCC president had been circling the BJP skies for well over a month after raising the banner of revolt against chief minister Ashok Gehlot. Failure to muster the numbers needed to topple the shaky regime finally compelled him to touch home base. That his rebellion was destined to fail was evident from day one given the imponderables. The odds were heavily stacked, and behind the machinations was a wily rival, the CM.

The situation had become much too messy and untenable for Pilot to continue playing the end game. Looming large was an apex court approved trust vote on August 14, evanescent support among his own rank of rebel MLAs holed up at a Manesar resort, restlessness at the prolonged furlough, constant harassment by the CM’s uniformed watchdogs, not to speak of opposition from within the BJP at a possible Madhya Pradesh like situation with a Congress defector holding the aces in the new power set-up.

Pilot needed hard numbers to negotiate the landmines. The BJP wanted at least 35 MLAs to mount a credible challenge. Only 18 were to be had for love or money. This would have brought down the Congress count in the state assembly from 107 to 89 in the house of 200, ie. 10 short of the half-way mark. Guileful Gehlot had in the last few days managed to draw circles around six more of the 18. Another 4-5 would almost certainly have been managed once the rebels realized that they were on the losing side. Pilot thus had no option but to crash land. His own irresoluteness was a factor. To join the BJP or back it from outside proved a poser. Also dangling was the Sword of Damocles of disqualification under the anti-defection law. Invoking it would have deprived him of his only substantive political identity. The speaker would most certainly have acted but for courtly intercession.

Aware of the incertitude ahead, the sensible thing Pilot did was to keep a door ajar for talks with the feckless high command. At no stage did he say that he was leaving the party. Only that he wanted his grievances redressed. Internal democracy was what he sought. Given the dynasty’s reluctance to take on the old guard, pinning down Gehlot would have been next to impossible. Required was a quick face-saving formula. That fell into his lap with the withdrawal of sedition charges against him by the Special Operations Group (SOG) and the decision to transfer the case to the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to probe the charge of bribery levelled by the CM against three rebel legislators. The ACB, on its part, has since indicated its reluctance to pursue the charges given the paucity of evidence.

Now that Gehlot has managed to survive by a whisker, the focus shifts to whether Pilot will be given back his old posts as deputy CM and party president. A three-member AICC committee has been given the charge of taking a composite decision on his complaints. This may take several weeks given the Congress’ time-tested culture of procrastination. Though Pilot has said he is not keen to resume sitting on his old chair(s) of power, temporizing may set off another round of dissidence. Taking the high moral ground against a rustic CM who called him a nikamma (good for nothing) helped him recover some political capital. Failure to assess his political strength, however, showed his immaturity. The gambit proved an utter waste of time and resources during which the business of governance cannot but have suffered.

The CM may have retreated from his earlier resolve to get the rebels rusticated, Pilot included, but he remains unconvinced on why they should have been re-accommodated at Delhi’s behest. His backers in the RLP are also distinctly unhappy. They are determined to foil any effort to parcel posts and positions to the conspirators who sought to pull down the government. The status quo ante may seem to have been restored on paper, but the real games may only behind closed doors and under the table. Gehlot realizes his margin of survival is slim. He also knows that age is not his side, and that Pilot, will sooner or later, emerge the real face of the state Congress. Since there was always a trust deficit between the two, the chasm can only have widened.

The internal situation of the state BJP is not markedly better. Vasundhara Raje Scindia is an ageing leader. Though the bulk of the party’s 72 MLAs swear by the maharani, it will be suicidal for the BJP to go into the 2023 state polls under her leadership. Unlike the Congress, the party does not have a readymade successor of any consequence waiting in the wings. What the BJP has are immense resources which they will not hesitate to employ when they feel the tables can be turned. All they need to do now is sit back and hope for a formal implosion in the treasury benches. State BJP president Satish Poonia, however, has promised an “action-packed” assembly session. The challenge before Gehlot is to ensure the action does not deteriorate into a melee.

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Sudhir Kumar Singh
Sudhir Kumar Singh is an independent journalist who has worked in senior editorial positions in the Times Of India, Asian Age, Pioneer, and the Statesman. Also a sometime stage and film actor who has worked with iconic directors like Satyajit Ray and Tapan Sinha.


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