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Strange bedfellows in Rajasthan politics

Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot
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Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot

Highlights

When any government takes oath of office, the first words we hear are, “We will provide clean, transparent, good governance

When any government takes oath of office, the first words we hear are, "We will provide clean, transparent, good governance." It will be corruption-free people's government, they claim and vouch that they will not encourage floor crossing by anyone and if anyone wants to join their party, they should first resign from the parent party and the post they are holding. Sounds music to the ears. But then in reality, we find something totally different.

Over the years, we have seen how the 'Aaya Ram Gaya Ram' concept has been getting more and more fine-tuned and how the act has been virtually flourishing. This is not happening with any one single party, but all political parties are following the same principle. When out of power, they allege that the ruling party is luring their legislators or leaders by paying crores of rupees. They file petition with the Speaker seeking immediate disqualification of those who shifted loyalties just remains as a piece of paper. While the ruling party claims that people are joining them as they are attracted to the "dynamic" leadership of their leader and that it is an expression of dissent towards the parent party, the Opposition cries foul saying that it is defection by allurement and threat.

When the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) was in power in Andhra Pradesh, the YSRCP had alleged that their MLAs were paid Rs 25 crore each and were given a berth in the Cabinet. In Rajasthan, the Congress alleges that BJP is paying is Rs 35 crore per legislator. The BJP in this case firmly denied such allegations. While the Congress says that the BJP is encouraging defections, the ruling party says it is dissent.

The popular belief is that the political crisis in Rajasthan was an anticipated development. The power game that is on in Rajasthan and the Sachin Pilot-Ashok Gehlot tussle in the State politics has not come as a surprise. These two leaders had their own axe to grind against each other. The differences between them started gaining momentum soon after the Congress came to power in Rajasthan in 2018. The AICC which is facing serious leadership crisis had sown the seeds of dissent and dissatisfaction among these two leaders when it ignored the claims of Sachin Pilot to become the Chief Minister and instead opted for Ashok Gehlot. Sachin's argument was that it was under his presidentship, the party had steered back to power. Logically he is correct. Take for example in Andhra Pradesh when the Congress party had to be out of power for several years, the then PCC president Y S Rajasekhara Reddy took up Padayatra and steered the party to power. The AICC rightly made him the Chief Minister.

But here, despite the efforts of Rahul Gandhi trying till end to make Sachin Pilot the Chief Minister, Gehlot overshadowed him. The reason was when the Congress fell short of the majority, Gehlot showed his strength by roping in 13 independents and an RJD MLA and this turned the tide in his favour. The Congress party felt that the septuagenarian leader was still the popular face and could do better in Lok Sabha elections in 2019.

One and half year later, the differences have come to a flash point and Sachin claimed to have the support of 30 MLAs and pushed the government into minority. A lot of noise is being made that Sachin has turned a Congress rebel despite being given his due in the Congress party. He became MP at a young age of 25, a Minister at the Centre, PCC president and now the Deputy Chief Minister. He is being blamed as a man who has no loyalty towards the party and that he was bent on breaking it to realise his ambition of becoming the Chief Minister with the help of the BJP.

But on the other side of the coin, analysts say that it was a bait by Gehlot to make his son his political successor in the next elections. Gehlot felt that with Sachin in the party, it may be difficult to achieve his goal and hence triggered the crisis.

The Chief Minister who also holds the Home portfolio ensured that a notice by Rajasthan police' Special Operation Group (SOG) to record their statements in connection with the arrest of two BJP leaders for their alleged attempt to topple the Congress government was issued. Sachin who sensed that attempts were on to finish him politically, drew the attention of the party high command but there was no response from his political bosses. To save his political career, he turned into a rebel. The Chief Minister is now making all out efforts to save his government and even went to the extent of staging a dharna at Raj Bhavan on Friday when the Governor did not agree to his recommendation to convene the Assembly session on Monday to prove his majority. Gehlot's game plan, political observers say is to totally discredit Sachin. If Gehlot succeeds in saving the government, it would pave the way for making his son his political successor.

According to reports, Congress functionaries in the government said the "hostility" between the Chief Minister and his deputy was there for all to see. In one of the videoconferences attended by all District Collectors and police officers, when the Chief Secretary asked Gehlot whether he should invite the Deputy Chief Minister to address them, the CM snapped, "Arre chhodo (forget it)." Pilot, who was also attending the videoconference, could hear that snub. Gehlot was even putting a squeeze on the release of funds to the public works department, held by Pilot, said a Congress functionary close to the Deputy Chief Minister.

Certainly, there is need for putting an end to the famous 'Aaya Ram Gaya Ram' catchphrase which has become a new normal in Indian politics after Gaya Lal, an MLA from Haryana, changed his party thrice within a day in the year 1967. It now remains to be seen if the BJP government at the Centre which has been taking many bold decisions like abrogation of Article 370 and surgical strike will show equal concern and courage to amend the anti-defection law and make it fool-proof? Chances are bleak, say insiders.

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