Congress President Rahul Gandhi has decided to go with the old guard by choosing senior leaders like Kamal Nath and Ashok Gehlot in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan as chief ministers despite his preferred choice of installing younger leaders.
Winning a state is one part of the success story but the aftermath also needs to be taken care of. This is where chief ministers need to be picked carefully. By going with the old guard in two of the three states the party won – Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan and Kamal Nath in Madhya Pradesh – ignoring the claims of the younger Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia, Gandhi had weighed his options carefully.
This is the first time since he took over in March that Gandhi was faced with this challenge. Consciously he did not designate a chief ministerial candidate in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chattisgarh. This was in contrast to the earlier two big states that went to polls, Punjab and Karnataka, where he had announced Captain Amarinder Singh and Siddharamaaih as chief ministerial candidates. The Congress won Punjab and lost Karnataka. In Gujarat also he did not announce any name for the post.
There was a time when the Congress Working Committee had a role in choosing chief ministers though technically it is the elected legislators who should decide on the issue. The party legislators generally leave it to the high command.
Indira Gandhi had perpetuated this high command culture in the 1970s and since then it is observers to the legislature party meeting who come with a chit to read out the name decided by the high command. Rahul Gandhi is no exception as the party has left it to him to decide although he is going through a different process of consulting many others before taking a call.
For Madhya Pradesh, Rahul had three names earlier but even before the campaign former chief minister Digvijay Singh was sidelined and the other two – Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia remained in the race. When Rahul had been talking about infusing young blood, he must have found it difficult to arrive at the name of Kamal Nath. The problem was both had their pluses and minuses and finding a balance was tricky.
Kamal Nath is a tried and tested leader. He had held multiple portfolios in the Congress governments at the Centre. He is a ‘doer’. No one can deny his capabilities as a leader and his capacity to manipulate or raise funds. He is well connected in business circles.
Scindia is close to him, young and dynamic, articulate, from a well-established political family and equally capable. Ultimately, the explanation given is that Scindia is young and can wait and also the state with a fragile majority needed an experienced administrator and a flexible politician.
Rahul faced a similar problem in neighbouring Rajasthan also where two capable contenders – Gehlot and Pilot- were pressing their claims. Deciding on this took a little longer as Gehlot has been a two-term chief minister, is easily accessible, tried and tested, loyal to the Gandhi family and he had done a good job in the Gujarat polls. In Rajasthan, the party has a fragile majority and it needs a man of experience to carry every one along. Gehlot could do that better that Pilot.
As for Pilot, he has been slogging in the state as the Pradesh Congress President for the past four years and built up the party from scratch. He is foreign educated, young, articulate, a friend of Rahul Gandhi, hard-working, and capable. He led the party to the polls in Rajasthan. Choosing a chief minister in this border state is more difficult because of the caste arithmetic also. The state has faced Jat and Gujjar agitations earlier.
In Chhattisgarh, carved out of Madhya Pradesh in 2000, the old leadership of the area was completely wiped out by Maoists. This has resulted in Rahul Gandhi not finding it difficult in choosing either the old or the young. Four names are doing the rounds including Lok Sabha MP Tamradhwaj Sahu, state party president Bhupesh Baghel, leader of opposition in the outgoing Assembly TS Singh Deo and senior leader Charandas Mahant.
Rahul has to do a delicate balancing act in combining youth and experience.
How did Gandhi pacify the losers? He told them that the party had only one aim – that was to defeat the BJP in 2019. They saw the point and fell in line with his decision. The Congress has to seize the moment and take its victory forward to the 2019 polls and all Gandhi’s efforts are in this direction including the choice of the chief ministers.