JAIPUR: "When the face has been in front of you for ten years where is the need of talking about a new face ? " - this comment by former chief minister of Rajasthan Ashok Gehlot has suddenly intensified the tug of war in the Rajasthan congress. With Gehlot virtually staking claim for chief ministerial candidature, the division within the state Congress unit has now come out in the open.
"Khalk ki awaaz khuda ki awaaz hoti hai" (People's voice is God's voice), rumors were being floated that I have been sent to Gujrat and Delhi but that time also Ihad said I can't go away from people of the state. Gehlot further clarified talking to media in Udaipur.
AICC General Secretary ,Gehlot's comments have come days after one of his loyalists and former union minister Lalchand Kataria told a local news channel that: "Gehlot should be declared as the chief ministerial candidate and elections in the state must be fought with Gehlot as the CM face. The people of Rajasthan also want Gehlot to be the Chief Minister. The party high command is also aware of the situation and is continuously taking a feedback."
However, the state in-charge of Rajasthan Avinash Pandey reacted sharply on Kataria's statement and called it a step to weaken the party before the upcoming elections : "If Kataria has made such a statement it is a betrayal of the party. The party holds him responsible for giving such an irresponsible statement and the party will soon take action on this." When Gehlot was asked about Kataria's statement he said followers sometime talk like this in over-excitement and when asked about Avinash Khanna's reaction he said smilingly " He has also reacted in over excitement". When asked about Sachin Pilot he said " He is dear to me I had recommended his name when he was made union minister."
Given the statements from Gehlot loyalists, supporters of state Congress President Sachin Pilot who is also the contender for Chief Minister's post ( Pradesh congress committee) have also got activated.
Pratap Singh Khachariyawas, District Congress President of Jaipur blamed Gehlot for the debacle that the Congress suffered in the 2013 elections; in contrast he praised PCC Chief Sachin Pilot and claimed that Pilot was responsible for the victories that the Congress registered in recent by-elections in the state where the BJP lost in all the 17 assembly segments that were covered in the by-elections for the two Lok Sabha and one assembly seats in February this year. Khachariyawas said: "Pilot went on ground zero and motivated Congress workers; that's why our party won all by-elections. And now when it's the final time to fight with BJP some leaders are giving useless statements."
Recently, a local media network carried out a special survey in which Gehlot was the first choice of the public for the post of Chief Minister. Sources in the party have said," Gehlot having been a stalwart in the party for 40 years and it seems that he is wishing to be declared the chief ministerial candidate as it might be his last chance at becoming the Chief Minister of Rajasthan."
Many in the state Congress say Gehlot should be declared as the CM face just as Amarinder Singh was declared CM face in Punjab before elections !! And the recent moves seem to be a planned strategy of Gehlot camp to claim his candidature at a time when Pilot was out of India. Despite major electoral successes in by-elections in the past one year, the Congress unit in Rajasthan has been clearly divided between Gehlot loyalists and the Pilot camp. The party's central leadership is trying to evolve the formula of collective leadership to avoid any damage that frictions within the party could inflict on the Congress chances in the upcoming Rajasthan elections.
But now with Ashok Gehlot openly siding with his loyalists, the next move of the Pilot camp is being closely watched. After the Gujrat and Karnataka elections Gehlot is considered close to Congress president Rahul Gandhi and has become one of the leading strategists within the party. Political observers say it will now be more interesting to see how Pilot Junior counters Gehlot's claims and also how the party High Command handles the situation at this crucial time just a few months before the assembly elections in Rajasthan.