Vasundhara vs Shekhawat camps in Congress
Rajasthan Congress leader and former Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot has upped the ante against his own Chief Minister by embarking on a Jan Sangarsh Yatra. He is insisting that his queries regarding Congress CM Ashok Gehlot’s inaction on corruption charges against Vasundhara Raje Scindia should get a reply. However, the Gehlot camp too is shooting off its own questionnaire to Pilot asking why he hasn’t commented on the Sanjivani Credit Cooperative society scam allegations against BJP leader Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. If you recall when Pilot had threatened to break away from the Congress, Gehlot had claimed that he was being wooed by Shekhawat to join the BJP. So there is now a new interesting twist in the Congress camp wars in Rajasthan—with Pilot’s supporters alleging that the CM is shielding Vasundhara Raje Scindia, and in turn the Gehlot camp is claiming that Pilot is silent on allegations against Raje’s state rival in the BJP, Union Cabinet Minister Shekhawat. Go, figure.
Pilot’s New Flight Plan
In the midst of all this the more important question is: will Sachin Pilot stay with the Congress or will he quit to form his own party? He has left it a bit late to float a new outfit as state polls are less than six months away. But having said that, it is equally difficult for him to continue given the rather personal and very public war against Pilot and the state CM Ashok Gehlot. State party workers are claiming that there is a deadline of sorts—30 May, for that is the date by which Pilot expects some action on the demands he has raised in his Jan Sangarsh Yatra. But will these be met? Now that he is free from Karnataka, the Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge will be focusing on Rajasthan. But will he make any headway with Gehlot? Remember right before he became Congress president, Kharge had been sent to Rajasthan to effect a change of guard, but Gehlot refused to oblige. That status quo remains, with Gehlot still holding firm. What can Kharge then offer Pilot to ensure that he stays?
Kharge Passes his First Test
Mallikarjun Kharge’s first test as Congress president was to ensure a smooth transition of power in Karnataka and make peace with the warring factions of D.K. Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah. It took a while but it was eventually Kharge who persuaded Shivakumar to step aside in Siddaramaiah’s favour. Sonia Gandhi’s phone call did seal the deal but it was made once the negotiations had been completed. Even Rahul Gandhi played to the optics, driving to Kharge’s residence for the meetings instead of summoning the Congress President to meet with him.Initially when Kharge met Shivakumar, the latter remained adamant on his demand for chief ministership; but finally Kharge convinced him that he should think long term and pointed to his own case, where he had been brought from the sidelines to the centre stage. He cautioned him not to react in haste but to mull over his options and finally Shivakumar conceded. In fact Shivakumar has come in for a lot of credit for his graceful acceptance of the situation, though he did bowl a final googly when he commented in an interview that Siddaramaiah was not his boss. So, perhaps Kharge should watch this space before he heaves a sigh of relief.
Spin from Karnataka
Apart from the usual Congress leadership the Karnataka campaign saw two other players. One was Sunil Kanugolu, a former member of the Prashant Kishor team, who was the Congress strategist for the campaign. Another more visible face was Naresh Arora (of Design Box fame), the spin doctor and strategist for D.K. Shivkumar’s camp. As a result, journalists covering the beat were given tip-offs and information about the Congress campaign apart from what was being shared by the AICC communication department. But Arora’s portfolio was tested the most during 14 to 18 May when it was crucial that Shivakumar’s case was given the correct slant in the media. That, plus DKS’ own pragmatic charm ensured that while Siddaramaiah got the coveted trophy, it was DKS who emerged as the man of the match.