A Tale of Two CM Candidates: After Rajasthan Assembly Elections, It’s Ashok Gehlot vs Sachin Pilot

Politics

A Tale of Two CM Candidates: After Rajasthan Assembly Elections, It’s Ashok Gehlot vs Sachin Pilot

Illustration: Arati Gujar

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s Rajasthan prepares to swap out one government for another faster than most switch cellphones, two factors are likely to influence the Congress’s selection of a new chief minister in the state. For one, with 99 seats and no need to worry about the majority vote, the candidate must be accepted by a broad swathe of Congressmen, while also being able to immediately act on manifesto promises. Then, he will also have to ensure that the mood continues to remain in the party’s favour till the 2019 Lok Sabha polls so it can deal with the BJP’s second coming. #NoPressure

Who will be the Congress’ man for the task? The two options before the party are Sachin “The Dynamic” Pilot, and Ashok “The Experience” Gehlot. Pilot is seen as an aspirational youth leader, while Gehlot comes with longer administrative experience and political savvy. Today, as the BJP figures out how many statues they were off the mark, two AICC observers will present their feedback to party president Rahul Gandhi in Delhi and take a crucial call on which direction they will steer the state in.

By not naming a chief ministerial candidate before the elections, the Congress high command was able to get the best of both worlds – it was able to utilise Sachin Pilot to grab the attention of the young voter, and Gehlot’s grassroots support to ensure the party brought in the numbers. Nizamuddin Qazi, AICC secretary and co-in charge of Rajasthan, revealed how spoilt for choice the party really is. “Our party has multiple choices of talented leaders,” he said. “The experienced Ashok Gehlot, the young and dynamic Sachin Pilot and others too…”

Still, the popular opinion is that the responsibility will eventually fall on the shoulders of the 68-year-old AICC general secretary, Gehlot. A close friend of the Gandhi family, Gehlot was retained as the party’s general secretary by Rahul Gandhi, when the latter took over as Congress president a year ago. Gehlot has also been credited for strategising the party’s campaign in Rajasthan, a commendable task, considering the number of potential rebels, who had been denied party tickets, that had to be pacified.

Today, as the BJP figures out how many statues they were off the mark, two AICC observers will present their feedback to party president Rahul Gandhi in Delhi and take a crucial call on which direction they will steer the state in.

Gehlot has also been able to command respect from both sides of the state’s political spectrum, as well as fight off competition from other senior Congress leaders in the state. As recently as 2008, he led a minority Congress government, with support from multiple parties including the BSP. This ability to garner support will prove important in 2019.

Gehlot started his political career in 1974, three years before Sachin Pilot drank his first glass of milk. Post that, he’s gone on to serve as a minister in the Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, and Narasimha Rao governments at the Centre. But it is the way Gehlot managed other senior leaders of the Congress while he was state chief that has been praised most. It is also a trait some are noticing in Sachin Pilot.

Sachin Pilot’s father Rajesh, who died in a car accident, was one of Sonia Gandhi’s closest advisors. He took over the Congress in Rajasthan in 2013, when the party had just about managed to win 21 seats in the state. In the last five years, the party has managed to take that tally to an impressive 99. Seen as an enthusiastic representative of the next generation of leaders, Pilot soared to an impressive 50,000-vote victory in last week’s election. There is no doubt that Sachin Pilot has a strong claim to the top post.

But as senior journalist Narayan Bareth points out, “At this stage, a seasoned and experienced person is needed to head the government. Especially since, in the next five months, the Congress has to fight the Lok Sabha polls, when it will need a soft-spoken man who can sort out differences smoothly.” And that seems to be Gehlot’s role in the party, given his “easy to approach” attitude and his reputation of being a non-controversial mass leader.

But as senior journalist Narayan Bareth points out, “At this stage, a seasoned and experienced person is needed to head the government.

On the other hand, the Congress may feel that this very reputation might make Gehlot a valuable asset ahead of the 2019 elections, and that declaring him as chief minister of Rajasthan would mean limiting the role he can play in other states. Until we know for sure which direction the party goes in, it would make sense to listen to the advice of Nizamuddin Qazi and “wait for Rahul Gandhi’s announcement.”

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