Over 90 MLAs had on Sunday threatened mass resignation, objecting to Sachin Pilot stepping into Ashok Gehlot's shoes.
Ashok Gehlot is to meet with Sonia Gandhi this evening amid suspense over whether he will run for Congress president. But he kept delaying his travel plans as he consulted his closest aides, who strongly indicated that he may not give up his Rajasthan role anytime soon.
“The Congress will work under Ashok Gehlot’s leadership. We did not discuss his resignation. He is not resigning today, he will not resign in future,” said state minister Pratap Singh Kachariyawas.
Another minister, Vishvendra Singh, said: “Mr Gehlot will complete his five years in Rajasthan.”
Since the Congress doesn’t allow anyone two posts, many saw these comments as a hint that Gehlot does not want to run for party president.
Rahul Gandhi last week made it clear that Gehlot cannot play a double role, in line with the Congress’s “one person, one post” policy.
Gehlot, with much reluctance, agreed to contest the party president election, but his refusal to quit as Rajasthan Chief Minister is at the core of the current crisis in the Congress.
On Sunday, over 90 MLAs loyal to Gehlot threatened mass resignation over reports that if he moved on to a national role, his replacement in Rajasthan would be his bitter rival Sachin Pilot.
In open defiance of the Gandhis, the MLAs laid out conditions that included choosing a new Chief Minister only after the Congress president election. If Gehlot becomes Congress chief, that will constitute conflict of interest as he will have empowered himself to pick his own successor in Rajasthan.
The rebellion deeply embarrassed the Congress in the middle of Rahul Gandhi’s “Bharat Jodo Yatra”. The Gandhis were said to be furious, and there was strong speculation that Gehlot is out of the race for party chief.
But top party sources said Gehlot is “still in contention for the post of Congress president and not ruled out”.
Last evening, Congress leaders Ambika Soni and Anand Sharma, after a meeting with Sonia Gandhi, spoke with the Chief Minister to “resolve the crisis that has been created”.
Gehlot denied any part in the revolt, citing his visit to a shrine near the India-Pakistan border that morning where there was no phone reception. “Nothing is in my hands. The MLAs are angry,” he told the central leadership.
Gehlot also apologised but the Congress leadership was said to have taken a “serious view” of indiscipline by one of its senior most leaders.
Sachin Pilot, whose supporters are far outnumbered by Gehlot’s, is in Delhi.
The Congress is prepping for its first non-Gandhi president after more than two decades. All three Gandhis will stay out of the October 17 election. So far, Shashi Tharoor has called for nomination papers. There are reports that Digvijaya Singh may join the contest.
Sources said Pilot has sought an appointment with Mrs Gandhi, which is yet to be granted. Sources close to him have said no meeting has been fixed so far.
Senior Congress leader Sachin Pilot — at the centre of the huge turmoil in the party’s Rajasthan unit — has arrived in Delhi seeking a meeting with party chief Sonia Gandhi. Sources said Pilot has sought an appointment with Mrs Gandhi, which is yet to be granted. Sources close to him said no meeting has been fixed so far.
More than 90 MLAs in Rajasthan are on warpath to block Pilot from succeeding Ashok Gehlot in the Chief Minister’s post. All have threatened to resign, demanding that if not Mr Gehlot, a Chief Minister should be chosen from the pool of MLAs who had kept the government afloat when Mr Pilot rebelled two years ago.
Gehlot, accused of “humiliating” the Congress, is also likely to visit Delhi and meet Sonia Gandhi, sources have indicated.
The public defiance of Mrs Gandhi by his supporters has put a question mark on Gehlot’s participation in the party’s presidential elections. But the situation is fluid and today, sources indicated that he might still be in the running.
Credited by many for his oversized role in the party’s victory in the 2018 state elections in Rajasthan, Pilot was seen as a contender for the top job but was persuaded by Rahul Gandhi to act as Gehlot’s Deputy.
In 2020, Pilot rebelled, camping out in Delhi with 18 supporters who insisted on a bigger role for him in the government. The bitter stand-off was resolved after more than a month, following the intervention of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Rahul Gandhi.
This time, with Rahul Gandhi putting his foot down regarding a double role by Gehlot, there was expectation that Pilot may have his chance at last. But this time too, he has been bested by Gehlot, who, since Sunday, has given ample proof of his heft within the party.
Asked about the possibility of his succeeding Gehlot at the top post, Pilot has always maintained that it is the high command’s call.