Rajasthan bares Cong’s rudderless drift
Rahul Gandhi was discussing geopolitics and the pandemic with a Harvard professor when some of his party MLAs in Rajasthan were allegedly negotiating a price to scupper the Congress’s prospects in the June 19 Rajya Sabha polls.
Although swift action by chief minister Ashok Gehlot seems to have foiled the plot, the past few days’ developments have underlined the crisis the Congress is facing in the absence of a functional, long-term head.
Sonia Gandhi is only a stop-gap president, and Rahul has undoubtedly positioned himself as the party’s supreme leader during the lockdown --- but he’s still a long way off from taking over the reins.
So, the Congress has been careering along like a rudderless ship. The party has lost its government in Madhya Pradesh through defections — in a rerun of Karnataka 2019 — and seven MLAs have resigned in Gujarat to ensure only one of Bharatsinh Solanki and Shaktisinh Gohil will enter the Rajya Sabha next week.
While the Congress has been hurling bribery charges against the BJP, the fact remains that it has itself failed to demonstrate anything resembling political management in a while.
The central leadership smelt the plot in Rajasthan and rushed Randeep Surjewala to Jaipur, followed by general secretaries Avinash Pande and K.C. Venugopal, who is a Rajya Sabha candidate from the state.
But there’s little doubt the Congress has failed to confront the killer instinct of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah, who appear to be prioritising realpolitik when the economic and Covid-19 crises demanded their full administrative attention.
An audio clip of a purported comment by Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan reinforced this perception a couple of days ago, suggesting the decision to topple the Kamal Nath government had been taken at the top.
Shah, barely visible during the peak of the humanitarian crisis triggered by the unplanned lockdown despite his ministry’s nodal role in managing the Covid-19 outbreak, has now launched a digital blitzkrieg to contact the masses.
Several parties have chastised Shah for conducting the campaign in the middle of a calamity. Congress leader Ahmed Patel tweeted: “Will these so called virtual rallies check the spread of virus, create jobs, feed the poor and revive economy?”
They have, however, revived politics. This showed in the flutter in Rajasthan where the Congress has a clear majority to win two Rajya Sabha seats.
Mahesh Joshi, the Congress chief whip in the Assembly, has lodged a complaint with the anti-corruption bureau about a conspiracy to destabilise the state government.
“A case has been registered,” Gehlot said. “There is talk of hundreds of crores (being spent); advance payment is being made (to the tune of) Rs 30 crore per MLA.... This horse-trading has created a dangerous situation in the country.”
Gehlot pointed fingers directly at the BJP, saying the game played in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Gujarat was being replicated in Rajasthan.
All the Congress MLAs were herded into a Jaipur resort where Gehlot talked to them in the presence of central observer Surjewala.
Gehlot has contested the perception that the Rajya Sabha elections had been postponed from March 26 because of the Covid-19 outbreak, underscoring that they were now being held when the pandemic was peaking. “They put it off because of these machinations,” he said.
Surjewala told The Telegraph over the phone from Jaipur: “No amount of allurement, muscle and money power and coercive politics will break the resolve of our MLAs.”
State BJP leaders, including the Rajasthan unit president, have dismissed the charges as a “great Congress drama” to divert attention from the alleged conflict between Gehlot and his deputy Sachin Pilot.
The BJP had also attributed the change of government in Madhya Pradesh to Congress infighting, although it had openly ferried the rebel MLAs to Bangalore on two chartered flights.
The audio that purportedly implicates the BJP brass surfaced on Wednesday.
Former Congress minister Jitu Patwari told a news conference: “During (his) Indore visit on Monday, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan accepted before his party’s activists from Sanwer that he had toppled the government at the instance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, home minister Amit Shah and BJP national president J.P. Nadda.”
The voice in the audio says: “It was the central leadership that had decided that the government would be dislodged, else it would ruin everything. Tell me, was it possible to dislodge the government without Jyotiraditya Scindia and Tulsi Bhai? There was no other way.”
Tulsi Silawat, a Scindia loyalist, had defected along with his mentor.
The Congress has launched a social media campaign, saying: “Beware, home minister Amit Shah is on a shopping spree again.”
Rahul’s conversation with the former American diplomat and Harvard professor for international relations, Nicholas Burns, is to be streamed across social media platforms on Friday, reports said.
Rahul has tweeted they discussed “how the Covid crisis is reshaping the world order”.
The Congress MP had earlier interacted publicly with former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan, Nobel laureate economist Abhijit Banerjee, epidemiologist Johan Giesecke and industrialist Rajiv Bajaj.