CP Joshi: The irascible Speaker of Rajasthan may save the Congress govt

Despite differences (and they persist) between Gehlot and Joshi, they make a formidable team
Had C P Joshi, current Speaker of the Rajasthan Assembly, not lost in his constituency, Nathdwara, by one vote in the 2008 assembly elections, it might have been hard to decide whether Joshi or Ashok Gehlot --- current Chief Minister of Rajasthan ----  would have been chief minister.

The two are chalk and cheese. Joshi is irascible, blunt and hates being asked for favours. Gehlot is moderate and unaggressive. They are also not particularly fond of each other. In fact, at a meeting where Gehlot was present, Joshi remarked soon after the Rajasthan Assembly elections in 2008: “I was a follower of Ashok Gehlot. Now I am his collaborator.… The earlier relationship between us was of leader-follower and now it is of leader-collaborator”.

Despite their differences (and they persist), they made a formidable team and scripted victory not just in the Assembly elections (96 out of 200) but also in the Lok Sabha (19 out of 25) in 2008 and 2009.

As Union minister in the United Progressive Alliance government, Joshi was moved out of rural development to replace Kamal Nath in surface transport in 2011. When the UPA went into the Opposition in 2014, he was given extensive party responsibilities of nearly a dozen states, small and big, in the Northeast as well as Bihar, West Bengal, and the Andaman Islands.

Either his new assignment did not interest him, or he felt he had bigger fish to fry. Either way, it was on his watch that Himanta Biswa Sarma left the Congress to join the BJP, ostensibly because Rahul Gandhi didn’t give him the importance he felt he deserved. Many feel that the general secretary in-charge, Joshi, could have stepped in to stem the damage.

In Bihar, Ashok Choudhary, who was made party chief, quit, not just his position but the party itself, when he joined the Janata Dal (United). This, too, was under Joshi’s watch.

Others, too, had a litany of grievances. Speaking to local newspapers, Nagaland Congress chief Kewe Khape Therie, said just before the Congress lost the March 2018 elections, that the party was going to lose and Joshi was responsible for the loss: He even prevented Congress president Rahul Gandhi from visiting Nagaland.

Therie said that in the two-and-a-half years that Joshi was in charge, he visited the state only once. “I think the Congress will draw a blank as of now because Congress candidates have sailed in an abandoned ship. I don’t think anybody can stand without the support of logistics. I just didn’t like my candidates to resign. So I let them continue but I think nobody wins elections without logistics support,” Therie said. While the Congress had announced 23 candidates initially, five pulled out for lack of funds, leaving only 18 in the fray.

In Meghalaya too, the Congress managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. With just two more than the Congress, it was an agile Bharatiya Janata Party that managed to stitch an alliance with smaller groups and form a government. In Tripura, Sarma took advantage of a somnolent Congress to steal erstwhile allies from under its nose.

The party leadership took its time to act. The charge of the Northeast and West Bengal was taken away from Joshi only in 2018.

Then came the Rajasthan Assembly elections and Joshi went back to doing what he does best — state politics. Now, he is the slender thread that stands between a Congress and a BJP government. He might be saving the government for the party. But the unintended recipient of his grace will be bitter erstwhile rival, Ashok Gehlot.


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