There is a feeling among the Congress’ Rajasthan unit’s rank and file that Ashok Gehlot will be the party’s Chief Ministerial candidate in the 2018 Assembly elections, where the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) might suffer an electoral setback.
Congress workers feel that the recent bypoll results, in which the BJP lost on two Lok Sabha and one Assembly seats (this constitutes 17 Assembly seats out of the 200 total seats) are indicators that the party will be able to return to power this December.
“It was a massive win for the Congress candidate and it clearly shows the level of disenchantment of the people with the Vasundhara Raje government. To capitalise on this, Gehlot, who is a leader of the masses and likes to interact with the common man, unlike Raje, will be the best bet. You go to rural areas of Rajasthan and you will not hear anything negative about Gehlot; people still remember his welfare schemes. He is a people’s leader,” a party general secretary told The Sunday Guardian.
In the 2013 Assembly elections, the BJP had won on a massive 163 out of the 200 seats, while the Congress managed only 21.
Gehlot, who has emerged as the man-Friday of new party president Rahul Gandhi, is also being credited for playing his role very ably as the in-charge of the party affairs in Gujarat where the Congress performed well and was neck and neck with the BJP, when state elections were held in December 2017.
Gehlot, 66, who is the national general secretary presently, prefers to work without coming into the limelight unlike some of his young competitors.
“Gehlot’s experience played a major role in Gujarat and if we need to dislodge Raje, we will need someone like him who prefers a low key profile and ‘shows’ humility,” the party general secretary quoted said.
AICC general secretary in-charge of Rajasthan, Avinash Pande, told The Sunday Guardian said that the BJP was on a backfoot as it was grappling with so many issues that have negatively impacted the common man. “They have not fulfilled any promise regarding employment and farmers’ issues. Welfare schemes related to health and pension, started by Gehlot, have been curtailed. The education system in the state is in a mess as 18,500 schools have gone into private hands and 60,000 teachers have no jobs. Raje had got an unprecedented mandate, but she failed the people who voted for her. As for who would be our CM candidate, we have many experienced leaders in Rajasthan and that has always been a good fortune of the Congress. Across the country, we have multiple leaders who can fit in a role. Every leader that you mentioned (Gehlot, Pilot and C.P. Joshi) are popular and experienced. Everyone will be fighting this election as a family and the CM candidate will be decided by the MLAs in consultation with the party high command,” Pande said.
State Congress party president and former Union minister Sachin Pilot, 40, who is also seen as a claimant for the post of CM and who completed four years as the Congress state president this month, in an interview to a news portal, had spoken in detail about how the party managed to “shake the might of Raje” in the recent by-elections. He had spoken about his strategies in a detailed way.
Archana Sharma, chairman of the Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee (RPCC) media cell and state vice president, told The Sunday Guardian that the party had more than enough issues to take on the BJP. “Unlike the BJP, we do not say that we will win ‘n’ number of seats. We focus on local issues. The BJP is in the same situation as the Congress was in 2013. There is no factionalism; we are fighting the battle collectively. Senior leaders like Gehlot, C.P. Joshi, and Sachin Pilot, all are working together. Traditionally, we decide the CM’s face after the results of the election are declared,” she said.
Senior party leader and general secretary of the RPCC, Pankaj Mehta, told The Sunday Guardian, that the result of the 2013 elections was going to be repeated, but conversely. “There is a massive discontent against this government. Unemployment is a big issue, farmers are in massive distress, law and order is under attack, corruption at the local level is rampant and education and healthcare has been given to private players. Raje does not believe in meeting people and their representatives. We strongly believe that the 2013 results, in reverse, will happen again. As for the CM candidate, we have multiple leaders who can become the CM, but that is not a priority right now,” he said.
According to state Congress leaders, Rahul Gandhi has been able to assert himself in this state. “There is no doubt that Gehlot is the most popular leader and no one can deny that if an honest assessment in this regard is made, people remember him in a positive way. Apart from him, only Pilot is the leader who can become the CM. The good thing is that both Gehlot and Pilot are close to Rahul and hence will not ‘rebel’ and will go by his decision,” a party general secretary said.