NEW DELHI: Instability has come back to haunt the Congress in Rajasthan after two years. The Congress leadership’s move to replace Amarinder Singh with Charanjit Singh Channi in September last year as the Punjab CM a few months before the state poll had cost it dear. Its similar bid to change the chief minister of Rajasthan not just poses a threat to the Ashok Gehlot government but is also likely to harm the party’s prospects in the 2023 assembly election.
Though the reasons for changing the chief minister in Rajasthan and Punjab may be entirely different, the way in which political developments are unfolding may end up damaging the Congress’s chances of winning next year’s election.
The Congress witnessed hectic political activity even before the process to elect a new Congress president actually started.
Gehlot emerged as the choice of the Nehru-Gandhis and, therefore, the favourite of the majority of the Congress to succeed Sonia Gandhi as the party president. He sought to retain the Rajasthan CM’s post besides getting elevated as the Congress president.
However, Rahul Gandhi, who is leading the Congress’s ongoing Bharat Jodo Yatra, nipped it saying the principle of ‘one man-one post’ propounded and agreed to in the Udaipur ‘Chintan Shivir’ would be adhered. He clearly gave the line that Gehlot would have to step down as the Rajasthan CM.
Former state deputy CM Sachin Pilot was naturally viewed as Gehlot’s successor.
However, the party leadership’s premature move to convene a meeting of the Rajasthan Congress Legislature Party (CLP) to choose Gehlot’s successor has boomeranged.
Though Gehlot had acquiesced to Rahul’s final word about following ‘one man-one post’ formula, a political drama of a different kind not imagined by most unfolded in the border state.
The high command sent leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary in-charge of Rajasthan Ajay Maken to the state on Sunday to meet party MLAs and choose the new CLP leader.
This move in itself has raised eyebrows within the state unit of the Congress. Cabinet minister Pratap Singh Khachariyawas said, “These MLAs (loyal to Gehlot) are asking why a CLP meeting has been convened before the AICC presidential election?”
Another cabinet minister in the Rajasthan government, Govindram Meghwal, too questioned the hurry in convening a CLP meeting before the Congress president’s election.
With Gehlot and Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor likely to be in the fray, the presidential election is set to be held on October 17.
According to reports, 87 of the 108 Congress MLAs in the 200-member Rajasthan assembly are said to be behind Gehlot. They are demanding that either Gehlot be allowed to retain the CM’s post besides taking over as Congress president or anyone among those MLAs who had stood behind the party when Pilot, with 18 MLAs, had revolted against Gehlot in 2020, be allowed to lead the government.
In a sign of revolt and indiscipline, the MLAs backing Gehlot have refused to meet Kharge and Maken or attend the CLP meet.
Though Gehlot has been quoted as saying that nothing was in his control, it is believed that the whole drama seems to be stage-managed. Otherwise, Gehlot, considered to be loyal to the Nehru-Gandhis and enjoying their confidence, would not have allowed the MLAs backing him to adopt a belligerent stand even before the AICC president’s election.
Be that as it may, the inner squabble in the Congress will only spoil its image in the state. The party may lose whatever chances it has to retain governance in the state.
This mirrors the goings on in Punjab last year which cost the party its office.
Congress’s self-goal in Punjab
The Congress, led by Amarinder Singh as the chief ministerial face, won 77 out of the total 117 seats in the 2017 assembly election. Amarinder formed a government and was going strong till cricketer-turned-politician and former BJP MP Navjot Singh Sidhu made his entry in state politics.
On the complaint of some MLAs and Sidhu in May last year, the Congress high command decided to review the works accomplished by the Amarinder government as per the promises made by the party in its manifesto ahead of the 2017 assembly election.
While Amarinder did not get an audience with either Rahul Gandhi or Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Sidhu not just met both of them but was also successful in getting himself appointed as the Punjab Congress Pradesh Committee (PCC) president.
Subsequently, in a major decision, Amarinder was replaced with Charanjeet Singh Channi as the CM in September 2021. Amarinder felt humiliated and quit the Congress. He formed his own political party – Punjab Lok Congress.
Amarinder attacked Sindhu, Channi and the Congress leaders. He called Sidhu an “anti-national” for being friends with Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan and that country’s army chief general Qamar Javed Bajwa.
According to several surveys before the Punjab election, the Congress would have won had Amarinder not been removed. The removal disturbed the equilibrium and the public spat spoilt the party’s image. The Congress lost to Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Bhagwant Singh Mann became the CM.
Failing to make a mark in the assembly election, Amarinder merged his party with the BJP earlier this month.
After Punjab, Congress appears to be scoring a self-goal in Rajasthan.

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