‘Anti-incumbency and deep rooted infighting may bring the BJP to power.’
NEW DELHI: Unless things improve drastically, the Congress is likely to repeat its recent Gujarat election debacle in neighbouring Rajasthan where elections are scheduled for next November.
In the state where voters have changed the party in power every five years since the 11th Assembly election—when the BJP government led by stalwart Bhairon Singh Shekhawat was defeated by Congress that led to the appointment of Ashok Gehlot as the Chief Minister in December 1998—it appears that in the 16th Assembly elections, anti-incumbency and deep rooted infighting will bring the BJP to power.
Participants of the Rahul Gandhi-led Bharat Jodo Yatra—which entered the state in the evening of 4 December after crossing over from Madhya Pradesh’s Pipaliya Kheda village in Agar-Malwa District to Chanvali, Jhalawar, in Rajasthan by walking across the bridge built on Chambal river—found that the sense of the political differences between Gehlot and Pilot was palpable in the air and visible on the numerous posters that have put by the state Congress leaders across the yatra route.
These participants—who have no political biases for or against Gehlot or his political challenger, Sachin Pilot—told The Sunday Guardian that it was clear that Gehlot and Pilot were fighting each other rather than the BJP.
On 29 November, party’s general secretary K.C. Venugopal—who was asked to rush to Jaipur in an attempt to douse the fire that was generated by Gehlot calling Pilot a “traitor” —later did a joint press conference with both Gehlot and Pilot in attendance to show everything was all right between the two leaders who have been at each other’s throat since the time the Congress came to power in December 2018 in the state.
The visit of Venugopal was to ensure that the Bharat Jodo Yatra passes its 18-day Rajasthan leg smoothly before moving on to Haryana on 24 December. However, according to party leaders who enjoy the confidence of the leadership, things are in a very “bad” shape in Rajasthan, something which was also evident during the yatra.
“The organization is in disarray, the only agenda of the state leaders is to get ‘good marks’ for their respective leaders (Gehlot and Pilot) in front of Rahul Gandhi. There is not even an attempt being made on the ground to hide the acrimony between the two leaders. The inputs that we are receiving from the state leaders is that Gehlot’s sole focus in the last few months has been towards political developments due to which governance has suffered. Similarly, Pilot and his supporting MLAs too are attempting to weaken the Gehlot-led group, which is having a similar negative impact on the overall party’s perception among voters,” a senior central party functionary told The Sunday Guardian.
According to another leader, all things in the state are pointing towards the ominous—the party has seen four general secretaries in-charge in the state since May 2017 when Avinash Pande was appointed in place of Gurudas Kamat. Pande was then replaced with Ajay Maken in August 2020, less than 9 months after the Congress came to power in the state, after Pilot’s complaints that Pande was pro-Gehlot.
Maken, too, resigned last month in acrimonious circumstances alleging Gehlot’s attempt to undermine his authority by stating that he was “pro-Pilot”. Maken has now been replaced with Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, who has been a deputy CM of Punjab.
“If the elections are held now, the Congress might find it difficult to even touch 30 seats, such is the sorry state. The extent of damage caused by anti-incumbency and infighting will be visible next year. Unless Rahul Gandhi takes a concrete step and deals with this difficult situation that he finds himself in, the Congress will lose Rajasthan. What is compounding the problem is that Pilot is not strong enough to wean away a substantial number of MLAs, but he is in a strong enough position to ensure Gehlot doesn’t win in 2023,” one of the central functionaries who has been attending the yatra told The Sunday Guardian.
According to party leaders, the only “silver-lining” for Congress at the present is that like them, the BJP too is struggling to put its own house in order. The BJP is yet to decide on whether to allow the resurgent Vasundhara Raje to lead its campaign or try its luck with other leaders. Raje, who likes to do things as per her will as far as state politics is concerned, as per political observers, is way ahead of any other leaders when it comes to popularity among the voters and hence the BJP central leadership is in two minds.