NEW DELHI/JAIPUR : Hours after he was named Rajasthan’s chief minister, Ashok Gehlot told the newly-elected Congress lawmakers that he would actually be wearing “a crown of thorns”. That was as honest as he could get, as state party unit president Sachin Pilot, who is no pushover, would be his deputy. Gehlot’s main issue would be keeping Sachin Pilot in good humour, since he got the top job after a bitter power struggle and intense lobbying with Congress chief Rahul Gandhi.
In his third term as chief minister, and with the 2019 Lok Sabha elections just a few months away, Gehlot would also be expected to deliver most of the 25 parliamentary seats in the state. But this may not be easy, given that the BJP is close behind with 73 MLAs.
The Congress didn’t win even a single parliamentary seat in 2014, and a year earlier, was routed under Gehlot as chief minister. Pilot, who is credited with revamping the party from scratch since then, has settled to play second fiddle, but would not like to let his influence wane. For now, he is sending the right signals. “We will show how the government is run collectively,” Pilot told party lawmakers.
The trend in the state has been that the party that comes to power in the Assembly does well in the Lok Sabha polls as well. In case that does not happen, Gehlot’s position could be under AICC scrutiny.
The Congress and the BJP did not have a big vote share difference, forcing the grand old party to seek support from independents and others.
Sachin as deputy CM means a parallel power centre has been set up in the state and Pilot is being seen by many as a successor to Gehlot. Choosing his Cabinet keeping in mind the caste and regional equations in the state, dealing with the allies and an aggressive BJP in the Assembly and outside, would certainly put Gehlot on the edge. Sources said Pilot had agreed to be deputy CM on condition that his group of MLAs would get equal weightage in comparison to Gehlot’s loyalists, meaning that important portfolios may go to Pilot favourites like Pratap Singh Khachariyawas and Raghu Sharma.
Governance in consonance with the party’s manifesto would be another big challenge for the new chief minister as the Congress came to power flogging former chief minister Vasundhara Raje for ignoring the voters after coming to power. Gehlot will have to ensure that promises made by Rahul Gandhi to farmers and the youth are fulfilled , otherwise the strong opposition will make his tenure difficult. “Along with Sachin ji and the MLAs, we promise to give good governance,” said Gehlot.
Conditions apply: Pilot
Sources said Pilot agreed to be Dy CM only if his group of MLAs got equal weightage in comparison to Gehlot’s loyalists