Rahul Gandhi had a great opportunity to show that the Congress isn’t the ‘Grand Old Party’ any more. But by choosing Ashok Gehlot instead of Sachin Pilot, has the Congress President scored a major self goal instead?
In the race to the post of Chief Minister, experience has apparently triumphed over youth in both Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. After electing Kamal Nath as the CM of Madhya Pradesh, the party high command has handed over the reins of Rajasthan to Ashok Gehlot, who has been CM twice earlier in 1998 and 2008. Sachin Pilot, President of Pradesh Congress Committee and also the other major contender for the position, has been nominated the Deputy Chief Minister. Congress President Rahul Gandhi referred to this combined leadership as the “united colours of Rajasthan”.
It was a tough decision for Rahul Gandhi to take, but leaders can make or break their political destinies in difficult times, depending on the choices they make. There is clearly nothing original or path breaking about the ‘united colours of Rajasthan’ approach taken by the Congress. It was the safest possible option that could have been taken. But this is clearly just a temporary solution to the imbroglio, and one has to see how it plays out over the coming years for the party in Rajasthan. Speculative reports that Gehlot could be CM only till the next General Elections only add to the khichdi politics at play.
DKODING believes that the decision was seriously flawed for the following reasons –
Man at the cockpit
As president of the Congress party in Rajasthan, we believe that Sachin Pilot officially merits far more credit for the party’s victory in the state. A Congress loyalist to the core, Pilot vowed not to wear his cherished turban till the Congress won again post the 2014 Lok Sabha debacle. He was given charge of the Rajasthan state unit of the Congress after the party suffered a humiliating defeat to the BJP in 2013 with just 21 seats vs the latter’s 163. According to media reports, Pilot has travelled over 5 lakh kms across Rajasthan to strengthen the party at the grassroots level. With a strong urban-rural connect, Sachin Pilot, who is a Stephanian as well as a Wharton MBA graduate is a Congress loyalist with strong caliber and enormous potential. Any avid follower of Indian politics will tell you that such a combination is rare to find and therefore invaluable. It is a grave error to view Pilot just from the perspective of textbook experience in governance of a state.
‘Grand old party’ getting older?
The consensus view even after the hard-fought state election victories (two of which came against three-term long BJP governments) at present is that the BJP’s return to power at the Centre is more or less assured in 2019, irrespective of genuine concerns of economic mismanagement, policy blunders like Demonetisation, farmer unrest, woefully insufficient response to rising unemployment, etc. And this has more to do with the quality of the alternative that the Congress provides as the ‘main opposition party’. What’s the real problem ailing the Congress?
We would say that it is more of a ‘positioning’ issue, albeit backed by solid facts on the ground. The Congress is still viewed as the ‘Grand Old Party’ that has not been able to provide an alternative template to the BJP at the Centre so far. Indulging in endless rhetoric about how the BJP is ruining the country, laying out electoral sops like farm loan waivers and extolling the virtues of the previous UPA term are not templates for governance. The party has to show some genuine evolution in its ideas, leadership and style of functioning to actually make voters sit up and take notice.
Appointing Pilot as CM at this juncture would have made for great optics for a start. It would have shown that the party is actually keen on bringing youth to the centre stage, while also making a strong statement in favour of merit. In a country where the average age of a technology entrepreneur is 28-29 years, it isn’t very prudent to be viewed as a party that doesn’t entrust youth with leadership roles! In fact it only makes you look like the ‘Grand Older Party’.
Do you have a vision for 2024?
Former British PM Harold Wilson famously said, “A week is a long time in politics”. Having said that, we may not see Modi’s national stature changing significantly in time for the Congress to benefit significantly before the General Elections of 2019 a few months from now, but the Congress can at least look at things from the perspective of 2024. Modi earned his stripes as a national leader after completing two successive terms as the CM of Gujarat (he won in 2012 as well, but resigned after he became the PM in 2014).
By 2024, it is highly likely that Modi may not be part of the equation. But even if he is, Congress could build a pool of next gen leadership with proven credentials in governance to counter the Modi vision. So it was an opportune time to give the opportunity to a leader like Sachin Pilot to perform as CM of Rajasthan, obviously with the mentorship of senior party leaders like Ashok Gehlot. Young leaders can bring new ideas and energy to the Congress that can give it a powerful narrative of its own for the General Elections in 2024 and all electoral contests in the interim.
Instead, all that the Congress could manage was a ‘Batman-Robin’ like combination of CM and Deputy CM for Rajasthan, which could either serve to synergise and share credit or in the more likely and unpalatable scenario, to shift the blame. Clearly, the Congress has missed the wood for the trees again in Rajasthan, just as it did in Madhya Pradesh.