Former Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot was on Saturday cornered for his refusal to drop sitting MLAs who faced strong anti-incumbency, with the dominant opinion at the Congress review meeting being that a better choice of candidates could have saved his government.
Although Gehlot argued that the Rajasthan Assembly polls had turned into a Hindu-Muslim battle because of the BJP’s polarising tactics, Rahul Gandhi disagreed with him at the meeting, insisting that divisive politics had a limited impact.
Gehlot couldn’t defend his refusal to drop MLAs, his only argument being that they had saved his government during a rebellion.
Almost everyone at the meeting pointed to poor candidate selection, saying this happened despite surveys clearly indicating that most of the Congress MLAs faced strong public displeasure.
Rahul had tried to persuade Gehlot to drop around 40 MLAs but the former chief minister was not willing to yield. Most of the MLAs on the “suspect list” lost. Even senior ministers whose candidature Gehlot had defended were defeated.
One section within the Congress central leadership is against any immediate organisational overhaul in the states where the party suffered shock defeats, keeping in mind that the big battle of 2024 is not far away. But another section wants the party to offer something new to generate curiosity among the voters.
Congress sources said the high command was averse to any major shake-up,
particularly amid the speculation about the government advancing the general
election by a month or two after generating nationwide excitement by inaugurating the Ayodhya Ram temple in January.
If the Congress anoints new leaderships in the states where it has lost, they will hardly have time to settle down before the general election campaign starts, most likely in February.
“We barely have 60-70 days before electioneering starts. There will be some changes because those who want to contest the elections will have to be freed. But the demand to unleash a new-generation leadership will have to wait,” a party functionary said.
“We will most likely see Kamal Nath, Ashok Gehlot and Bhupesh Baghel continue to lead in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.”
But the younger leaders are against this pro-status quo thinking; they believe the party must offer a new deal instead of relying on leaders who have been around for decades.
This section holds Kamal Nath and Gehlot responsible for the defeats in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, arguing their overconfidence led them to ignore wise counsel.
“There was a crisis of team spirit under their leadership,” a senior leader told The Telegraph.
The unexpected defeats in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have created a sense of disquiet in the Congress.
Rahul Gandhi cancelled his scheduled foreign tour and completed the review meetings for Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram on Saturday.
It is rare for the party to analyse poll defeats within a week of the results, but the paucity of time has forced the Congress leadership to get cracking.