Because the curtain has not dropped yet on the drama in Rajasthan, it might be premature to comment on developments. But some things are becoming increasingly clear. The schism in the Congress party is not limited to the discord between the Rajasthan Chief Minister, Mr Ashok Gehlot, and his former deputy, Mr Sachin Pilot. There are wider fissures in the party which threaten to tear it apart. First, the grip of the Gandhi family on the party appears to have loosened considerably.
Even as the Gandhis were anxious to leave the door at least partly open for Mr Pilot, it appears to have been slammed shut quite emphatically by Mr Gehlot. The Chief Minister, known generally for his sobriety and caution, was uncharacteristically harsh in dismissing Mr Pilot as useless and lazy, and in deriding him for his looks and ease of communication.
While some believe that Mr Gehlot would not have been so abrupt ~ and so personally offensive ~ in dismissing Mr Pilot without a nod from the Gandhis, this may not be the case. There is growing disillusionment with the top leadership of the party and for the first time in recent memory, some leaders have begun to see the Gandhis as more of a liability than the adhesive force they have always been touted to be.
At the time of the 2018 election, Mr Gehlot was aware that the Gandhis’ choice for CM may have been Mr Pilot. Thus, conveniently, several of his followers fought the election as Independents and once the results were out, pivotally offered support to the Congress provided Mr Gehlot became the Chief Minister. The compromise of having Mr Pilot as Deputy Chief Minister and state party head was forced on Mr Gehlot, an imposition he clearly resented.
Thus, he studiously pushed his deputy to the side-lines and by allotting him little work ensured that he could later accuse him of being worthless and lazy. When Mr Pilot’s main backer, Mr Rahul Gandhi chose to step aside last year, the former’s fate was sealed. The second factor that explains the growing fissures within the Congress flows from the first.
Even as events unfolded in first Madhya Pradesh and then Rajasthan, the interim Congress president, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, was seen more to be circling the wagons than meeting challenges the party faced. Certainly, younger Congress leaders – persons deemed to be promising but many of them dynasts themselves – may have concluded that Mrs Gandhi is more comfortable with the measured trot of old warhorses that may whinny occasionally than with the galloping ambition of ungelded colts that might buck hard enough to throw a frail rider off.
A third factor may also be at play. The relentless campaign of the Bhartiya Janata Party targeting the Gandhis, especially Rahul who has variously been painted as a dunce, a dilettante, a dynast, and a dallier, may have begun to resonate even within the Congress. Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, especially when it loses respect and fails to provoke fear.