NEW DELHI: After indicating that he is ready to be a candidate for the Congress president’s post if his “last-ditch attempt to persuade Rahul Gandhi” fails, Ashok Gehlot made plain his reluctance to quit as chief minister of Rajathan.
Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot, widely seen as the preferred choice of the Gandhis, said party presidency is an elected post and the ‘one-man-one-post’ principle is for nominations. “Where it’s a nomination, there it is two posts. But this is an open poll. Anyone out of the 9,000 PCC members can contest, be it an MP, MLA or CM or minister. If it is a minister, he can be a minister and also Congress chief,” he said. He also said he would present the 2023 budget.
However, party veteran Digvijaya Singh told TOI, “If he becomes the party chief, he will have to quit as CM, as per the Udaipur declaration.”
Gehlot’s remark came in response to reporters’ queries about what will happen to the top job in Jaipur if he took over the AICC – a ticklish issue that Congress has to deal with in view of factional wrangling between him and Sachin Pilot.
It was interesting that Pilot joined Rahul Gandhi in Bharat Jodo Yatra in Kerala on Wednesday, while Gehlot is on his way to spend a day with the march in Kochi on Friday. Pilot who has long been pushing his case for CM-ship would want Gehlot to vacate the CMO in Jaipur when he files nomination papers.
The pulls and pressures may only heighten in the coming days, and Gehlot’s two-hour-long meeting with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday was seen as reflecting the nettlesome debate. He visited 10 Janpath at 4 pm and left Sonia’s residence around 6 pm, had a long discussion that is viewed to have touched upon the upcoming presidential poll and other related issues.
Congress MP Mukul Wasnik also met Sonia on Wednesday, in what is seen as a possible feedback on the succession issue. What seems to emerge is that Gehlot may insist on being allowed to continue as CM or, failing that, the nomination of one of his loyalists as his successor. His camp has suggested that he can stay CM without portfolio, and two deputy CMs can be appointed to run administration on a day-to-day basis.
Gehlot’s posture must be giving jitters to Pilot. His rebellion in 2020 nearly brought down the Gehlot government and is widely seen as a red mark on his credentials. But sources said he is still the first choice of the Congress leadership for succeeding Gehlot. Where the party faces trouble is Gehlot’s complete hold over the Rajasthan legislature party, which many believe will make the functioning difficult for anyone who doesn’t enjoy his approval. A senior office bearer said, “State units traditionally authorise the party president to nominate the legislature party leaders as also the state unit chiefs. If Gehlot is the party president, do you think he will not be empowered to decide his own successor?”
Asked if he will stay the CM after becoming party chief, Gehlot said, “Only time will tell where I will be or I won’t be. But I would want to be in the position where my presence will help the party.”