Unable to topple Ashok Gehlot but BJP still wins in Rajasthan

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot manages to keep his government.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may not have been able to topple the Congress government in Rajasthan but it remains the biggest gainer of the Sachin Pilot conspiracy. The Congress party has retained its government but lost its political soul. And Sachin Pilot played both by his inflated ego and the BJP has shot himself in the foot. India’s imperfect democracy clearly does not always have perfect outcomes.

The BJP has lost nothing in Rajasthan except, if rumours are to believed, some payouts to a few of the defectors. As far as investments in politics go, this hasn’t been a bad outlay. With minimal cost and effort, the party has exposed the irreparable split in the state Congress party. By facilitating the exit of Sachin Pilot and his loyalists it has also dented the social coalition of Gujjars and Meenas which usually backed the Congress in Rajasthan.

Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot will be forced on the defensive in the months to come as his government with its already slim majority pared further, finds itself nearer the exit gate. Every state the Congress loses reduces its financial clout. It has already been pushed out of power by the BJP in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. That leaves Congress governments only in Punjab, Puducherry and a one-third share in power in Maharashtra to generate funds for the party. With the Rajasthan government on the brink this will shrink further.

The state could conceivably move towards President’s Rule, if the political mess in Rajasthan gets worse. This is likely with allegations of horse-trading, the legal tangle of phone-tapping, disqualification of defecting legislators and possibly, social disturbance by their supporters. If the BJP is still unable to cobble together the numbers there may be mid-term assembly polls. All these potential outcomes favour the BJP.

The BJP has also been able to use these events to settle the party leadership in the state. Jodhpur MP Gajendra Singh Shekhawat is being projected as its future leader by choosing him to spear-head its de-stabilisation mission in Rajasthan. Former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia has not only been marginalised in the operation, but her arch-rival Hanuman Beniwal of Rashtriya Loktantrik Party, a BJP ally in the state, has alleged that she tried to pressure Congress lawmakers to support Chief Minister Gehlot. So the BJP has managed to distance itself from attacking Raje directly while the allegations send a signal to its cadre that she cannot be trusted. Eroding her credibility suits her detractors in Delhi especially as Raje can split the party if pushed to the wall. She enjoys the loyalty of about 45 out of 73 party legislators in Rajasthan.

The only downside for the BJP is that its unscrupulous pursuit of power is further underlined. Whether this perception is even a concern for the party is unclear after its many attempts to form governments through political defections in Maharashtra, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, before the Rajasthan experiment.

The Congress is the biggest loser in the Rajasthan imbroglio. The party appears to be in complete disarray and unprepared compared to the organisation and mission-oriented approach of the BJP. The message is that younger leaders are looking for greener pastures. This perpetuates the narrative that the Gandhi family does not allow younger leaders to grow, even though the career paths of both ‘rebel’ leaders--Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot--show exactly the opposite, the bestowing of undue and perhaps, in retrospect, undeserving favours.

The credit for saving the Rajasthan government goes largely to Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. The Congress High Command shows up in bad light, which according to reports, ignored three dossiers sent by Gehlot on Pilot’s de-stabilisation attempts. This poor show comes at a time when Rahul Gandhi is expected to take over as party president from Sonia Gandhi. The party’s energies which should have been engaged in planning its restructuring have been channelled into saving its government in Rajasthan. 

At the same time Rahul Gandhi is sought to be portrayed as a political dilettante who could not prevent the exit of his friends Scindia and Pilot. The narrative that Rahul Gandhi is a political rookie was manufactured by the BJP but it has come in handy for his detractors within the Congress. The entrenched Old Guard which would not like to see Rahul Gandhi back in the saddle seems to see developments in MP and Rajasthan as an opportunity. This is evident from tweets castigating the party leadership, expressing friendship with Sachin Pilot and even publicising their telephone conversations with him while he was challenging the party.

The faultlines in the party are less about age or “Old Guard vs.Young Turks”, than about entrenched factional networks that want to shut the door on new leaders. Those who have created strong patron-client relationships within the Congress and outside it, in business and industry, due to the positions they hold, feel threatened because the party is no longer in power. They can only retain their carefully nursed patronage networks by remaining relevant in the party organisation or controlling the state governments where the party is in power. These entrenched interests have become collateral beneficiaries of recent events although they damage the Congress.

Sachin Pilot has gained nothing from his revolt. Having failed to dislodge the state government, Pilot cannot expect to be rewarded by those who egged him on. In order to prevent his disqualification from the assembly his puppet masters may have provided him the best legal talent they could find but that may only buy him time.

Perhaps Pilot’s political survival lies in reaching a compromise with the Congress. He has not so far attacked the Nehru-Gandhi family, leaving open the path to reconciliation. The Congress can still repair the damage and let him come back chastened. He could be accommodated in the central party structure in the next few months. For this to happen, both Gehlot and the Congress party would have to dial down the rhetoric and freeze the situation before it gets any worse.

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