Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, in Delhi to meet Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, spoke at length on discipline in the party, and denied that it fell short at any point. What the media is reporting, he insisted, is “small potatoes” and declared that “these things happen”.
Three of Mr Gehlot’s close aides have been held accountable for the massive rebellion in the party’s Rajasthan unit. Action against them have been advised by the party’s Central observer Mallikarjun Kharge and state in-charge Ajay Maken, before whom the events unfolded on Sunday.
Mr Maken has accused the rebel MLAs of “indiscipline”. Action has been advised against chief whip Mahesh Joshi, RTDC chairman Dharmendra Pathak and minister Shanti Dhariwal, who hosted the parallel meeting of MLAs where they passed a resolution on the next Chief Minister, aimed at keeping out Mr Gehlot’s arch-rival Sachin Pilot.
“There is always discipline in the Congress,” Mr Gehlot told reporters, insisting it was the “tradition” of the party even today. “I have been watching for 50 years. From the time of Indira Gandhi, then Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao and now Sonia Gandhi,” he added.
ये हमारी पार्टी की परम्परा आज भी है, 50 साल से देख रहा हूँ, नबर वन जो होता है कांग्रेस प्रेसिडेंट, इंदिरा जी के वक्त से मैं देख रहा हूँ, राजीव जी के वक्त से मैं देख रहा हूँ, चाहे नरसिम्हा राव जी थे, सोनिया गांधी जी कांग्रेस प्रेसिडेंट हैं, हमेशा कांग्रेस के अंदर डिसिप्लिन है। pic.twitter.com/MrayXZDNyM
— Ashok Gehlot (@ashokgehlot51) September 28, 2022
“What has been going in the media is small potatoes, these things happen in internal politics. They are ‘ghar ki baat’. The country is in danger. Writers, journalists are being jailed for treason. We are all worried about inflation and authoritarianism and that is why Rahul Gandhi is on a yatra,” Mr Gehlot told reporters.
The political storm in Rajasthan, which has engulfed the party’s internal elections, centres Mr Gehlot’s refusal to quit the top post in Rajasthan over apprehension that it may go to Mr Pilot. Till Sunday’s rebellion, he was the frontrunner in the race for the post of the party chief, elections for which are due next month.
Mr Gehlot made it clear that he was ready to juggle both posts. But that possibility was brushed off by Rahul Gandhi with a clear remark that the party would stick to its “One man one post” policy. Mr Gehlot backtracked and on Sunday, went off to a temple near the state’s border with Pakistan – a remote area without cellphone connectivity.
In the evening, 92 MLAs loyal to him skipped the scheduled Legislature Party meeting where Mr Gehlot’s replacement was to be picked. Attending a parallel meeting, they declared that a Chief Minister should be chosen from among those who supported the government during Mr Pilot’s rebellion in 2020. Then they went to the Speaker’s house, threatening mass resignation if their demands are not met.
The next day, in blatant and public defiance of Sonia Gandhi, they refused one-on-one meetings with the Central leaders she tasked with resolving the situation, and put forward a set of demands.
Reaching Jaipur after the rebellion was well on its way, Mr Gehlot said he had no hand in it – a claim that the Congress’s central leaders took with a pinch of salt. The Gandhis were said to be hugely upset with the public “humiliation” of the party and many have privately held Mr Gehlot responsible for it.
His visit to Delhi and the scheduled discussions with Mrs Gandhi come after a section of the Central leadership, including Ambika Soni and Anand Sharma, started talks with him to resolve the crisis. It is not yet clear whether Mr Gehlot will enter the race for the party president post.