The sombre look of the Congress after the over three-hours long introspection on the Rajasthan election loss may not lead to any drastic change in the party. The state held true to its flip-flop nature of electing the opposition to power every five years, but the Delhi leadership of the Congress feels a win was doable given the BJP’s own internal issues in the state.
The bigger issue now, of course, is how the Congress performs in Rajasthan during 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The state has 25 seats in the Lower House, of which the BJP currently holds 24. The remaining is held by the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party.
Following the Congress win in 2018 Rajasthan Assembly elections, Ashok Gehlot was made the chief minister much to the heartbreak of Sachin Pilot. Gandhis at the time felt Gehlot could ensure a good performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, but the Congress was out for a duck in the state. Even Ashok Gehlot’s son Vaibhav Gehlot lost from the family turf of Jodhpur.
Since then, ties have soured between Gehlot and Pilot. Matters got worse when Pilot’s so-called rebellion led to a bitter exchange of words. Despite attempts by Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge and senior party leader Rahul Gandhi to broker a truce, it was clear during the campaigning that Gehlot and Pilot had drifted apart to the point of no return.
At one point, wary of the anti-incumbency factor, many MLAs wrote to state unit president Govind Singh Dotasra to ensure that Pilot campaigned for them.
Sources say these points came up at the post-mortem meeting convened by Kharge at the All India Congress Committee headquarters in Delhi on Saturday where Rahul Gandhi and other senior leaders were also present. Nearly everyone present surmised that sitting MLAs should have been replaced, sources said, adding that some even looked at Gehlot and said: “We don’t know why this didn’t happen.”
Insiders say leaders also pointed at the fact that the campaign was one-sided. A source quoted Rahul Gandhi as saying: “It seemed all about posters and hoardings.” Kharge is also said to have agreed that the campaign seemed person-centric.
There were murmurs of discontent during elections that the campaign was all about Ashok Gehlot and that a small group decided the roster of the campiagn.
Lokesh Sharma, Gehlot’s former Officer on Special Duty, who has made damning allegations against the outgoing chief minister, had told News18 that no one looked beyond the CM and this cost the party.
At the meeting on Saturday, a complete overhaul was suggested. In the short-run, the main questions that need to be addressed are: who will be the Leader of Opposition and the state unit chief; will Pilot be brought back; and will Gehlot give up control?