JAIPUR: The shockwaves from Jyotiraditya Scindia's revolt in Madhya Pradesh are being felt in Rajasthan as well. All eyes are now on Sachin Pilot, a close friend of Scindia, amid speculation that he could take the same route.
No wonder, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot was strong in his denunciation of Scindia. He tweeted: ''Joining hands with BJP in a time of national crisis speaks volumes about a leaders self-indulgent political ambitions. Especially when the BJP ruining the economy, democratic institutions, social fabric and as well the Judiciary. Mr Jyotiraditya Scindia has betrayed the trust of the people as well as the ideology. Such people proves they can’t thrive without power. Sooner they leave the better.''
Gehlot's anger may stem from the problems he has been facing since he became CM in December 2018. He has been in a continuous tussle with state party president Sachin Pilot who was sidelined in the race for the Chief Minister's post following the Congress’s win in the assembly elections.
But Gehlot is seen as a veteran in political manoeuvering and the government in Rajasthan has better numbers than the MP government. With the six BSP MLAs joining the Congress a few months ago, the party has 106 MLAs of its own besides the support of 13 others in a house of 200 seats.
Gehlot though has been facing intra-party trouble. With Sachin Pilot hardly a lightweight, the Congress’s challenge after coming to power has been to stabilize itself. The open confrontation between the top leaders has drawn flak even from the opposition BJP, which claims that the contradictions within the Congress have permitted no real development in Rajasthan in the last one year.
Pilot's camp insists that it was his hard work as state party chief that enabled the Congress to return to power in Rajasthan but the Chief Ministerial crown was handed over to Gehlot. Ever since, Pilot has remained a constant challenge for Gehlot, often criticizing his own government in the past 15 months.
The Gehlot-Pilot tensions have been well-known ever since the two fought bitterly for the CM post after the assembly elections in Rajasthan. Pilot had embarrassed Gehlot by admitting that the law and order situation has deteriorated in the state and that the state government needs to do more to improve the situation. Pilot's remarks were obviously aimed at Gehlot who holds the home portfolio.
In the Pehlu Khan lynching case too, Pilot had targeted the Gehlot government. After the court acquitted all the accused and Gehlot set up an SIT in the Pehlu case, Pilot had remarked that such steps should have been taken much earlier and the government should have been more pro-active in securing justice for Pehlu and his family.
The Rajasthan government’s decision to choose heads of urban local bodies through indirect elections sharply escalated the rift within the party when Pilot questioned his own government's decision and claimed that he was not consulted over it.
Just two months ago, Pilot slammed the Rajasthan government's handling of the deaths of over 100 newborns at the Kota hospital. He repeatedly said that accountability should be fixed in the matter and claimed it was pointless to blame the former BJP government in the state.
However, Gehlot loyalists argue that the situation in Rajasthan is very different from that in MP. Factoring in the possibility of a rebellion by the Pilot camp, Gehlot has adequately strengthened the Congress numbers in the assembly by inducting the BSP MLAs. But after the Scindia revolt, there is an air of uncertainty in Rajasthan as the BJP is also keen to dislodge the Gehlot regime.
"There will be an effort to upset the Rajasthan government too but Ashok Gehlot is too seasoned to let the BJP succeed in its designs,'' asserted a close aide of Gehlot. He further added, "Yes, some Congress dissidents might try to take advantage of the developments in MP. But Gehlot is likely to repulse this challenge. If Gehlot was chosen despite Pilot's open opposition, it was because he is a very astute politician and also has the support of a very large chunk of MLAs. While Pilot may try to create some pressure on Gehlot and the party, there are serious questions about how many MLAs will actually support him if it comes to the crunch.''
Many in the Pilot camp, however, argue that it would be a blunder to underestimate his strength and claim that he has at least 2-3 dozen MLAs totally loyal to him. They say that if Pilot continues to be insulted by Gehlot loyalists, then he too may be pushed towards the BJP. Whatever be the case, most political observers say Rajasthan is set for interesting times ahead.