Operation Desert Storm time in Rajasthan after Congress' Gujarat debacle and Himachal success?

If the Rajasthan CM's camp was mourning the Gujarat debacle, the verdict there gave wind to the sails of the Sachin Pilot camp. Here's why.

Published: 10th December 2022 09:34 PM  |   Last Updated: 10th December 2022 09:40 PM   |  A+A-

Ashok Gehlot, Rahul Gandhi, Sachin Pilot

Grimmer days ahead in Rajasthan? (Photo | PTI)

Rahul Gandhi was on the Bharat Jodo Yatra in the Hadauti region of Rajasthan when the results of the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections were being announced. Upset with his party's Gujarat showing, he soon cut short his Kota visit and flew away to join his mother Sonia Gandhi's 76th birthday celebrations at the Ranthambhore tiger sanctuary. 

Gloom descended upon the Ashok Gehlot camp too since the Rajasthan Chief Minister was the party's senior observer in Gujarat. He had been entrusted with the job of spearheading the Congress' election campaign there. His trusted lieutenant Raghu Sharma had been sent to the state as the AICC general secretary. It was Gehlot's initiative just as it had been to send Harish Chaudhary to Punjab before the Punjab polls. But both of the leaders failed miserably and could not save Congress the blushes in the states they had been entrusted with.

The Gujarat results in particular are a body blow to Gehlot, who had coined the term 'Rajasthan model' and addressed election meetings in the state claiming this model was superior to the Gujarat model when it came to the upliftment of the society.  

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Gehlot tom-tommed the Chiranjivi health scheme, employment schemes, the Old Pension Scheme and various other social welfare programmes of the Rajasthan government. But none of them succeeded in wooing the Gujarat electorate as the BJP won landslide mandates in all four regions of the state. 

Gehlot had also been in charge of the Gujarat elections in 2017 when the party won a 43 percent vote share and 77 seats. But 2022 saw their vote share plunge to 27 per cent. 

If the Rajasthan CM's camp was mourning the result, the Gujarat debacle put wind in the Sachin Pilot camp's sails. More so because Pilot along with Priyanka Gandhi had been a star campaigner in Himachal Pradesh. When the results from Himachal started trickling in, Pilot, who has gone all out to snatch the leadership from Gehlot, was seen addressing rallies in Bharatpur in Rajasthan with the collar of his jacket turned up. 
Later, Pilot was winking at Gehlot while saying the Himalayan state has proved that the BJP could be defeated with proper strategies. Bound by AICC directives that no party leader will issue any political statement during the period Rahul Gandhi's yatra was on in the state, Pilot, without naming Gehlot, stressed that the Gujarat showing was miserable and showed the party in poor light.

"What makes the Congress party happy is that after being dumped by various states in recent elections, we could form a government (in Himachal) for the first time since 2018. The aggressive campaign of Himachal Pradesh should be followed in letter and spirit by the Congress party in all future elections. Efforts should be made to arouse positive feelings in the heart and mind (of voters)," said Pilot, wearing a broad but mischievous smile.

The 45-year-old leader, as is well known, has been eyeing the Chief Minister's chair in Rajasthan despite the failed rebellion over two years ago when the Congress MLAs and the Independents supporting the Gehlot government sided decisively with the CM. His hopes rose again when Gehlot was initially told to run for the post of Congress National President.

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With this being the backdrop, it is all but certain that the Rajasthan CM's failure in Gujarat and Pilot's success in Himachal will certainly have an impact on the politics of this arid state. 

Pilot will now try to drive home the point that a change in leadership is needed if the party has to clinch the electoral battle next November. He will cite the example of Gujarat where Chief Minister Vijay Rupani was replaced with Bhupendra Patel and underline how that helped rejuvenate the BJP. The battle between an aggressive Pilot and a defensive Gehlot should be a keen one in the days to come.

The Rajasthan CM, who was thriving on the support of 102 MLAs, will now have to ensure that each of them stays with him. Pilot has friends in Gehlot's cabinet and he will impress upon the Congress high command the need to go in for a  change in leadership in the state. The ex-Deputy CM, though, might have to make sure that the numbers he once lacked don't come in his way again. If that happens, expect 'Operation Desert Storm' to be unleashed in Rajasthan after Rahul's Bharat Jodo Yatra completes its statewide leg on December 18.  

(Prakash Bhandari is a senior journalist. These are the writer's views.)

India Matters


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