Jaipur, Dec 14: If not a politician, he would have been a magician. The crafty low-profile Ashok Gehlot emerged the winner in the race for Chief Minister, apparently on the strength of his long experience in politics of Rajasthan which has put the Congress in the saddle of power without giving it a clear majority.
And now Gehlot, picked by his party for the top post and known for political management, will be required to bring all the factions within the Congress together after infighting is said to have robbed it of what could have been a better showing.
The “old guard” former Union Minister, party General Secretary and two-time Chief Minister pipped the youthful Rajasthan Congress chief, Sachin Pilot, on Wednesday to become Chief Minister for a third time.
Besides running the government and striving to fulfil the high expectations of the people, Gehlot will have to utilise all his political acumen and experience to tackle the infighting within the state Congress, especially the cold war with Pilot.
If the factionalism within became public over ticket distribution during the build-up to the crucial Assembly battle, the tussle between Gehlot and Pilot for the CM post peaked soon after the Congress emerged the winner.
Ultimately, the Congress high command preferred to go with the “old guard” over Pilot, who was brought in as the state Congress chief in 2013 to galvanise the party organisation.
Born in 1951 in Jodhpur, Gehlot cut his teeth in politics as a student leader and headed the Rajasthan unit of the National Students Union of India (NSUI), the Congress student wing.
Elected five times to the Lok Sabha from Jodhpur, he steadily acquired political stature under late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. He was a Minister under Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao.
Known for his proximity to both Congress President Rahul Gandhi and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Gehlot has lately been the party’s “go-to” man in important matters.
Gehlot was given the charge of Gujarat just months ahead of the 2017 Assembly elections in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state where the Congress did not win but nonetheless gave a stiff fight to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The Congress veteran’s political acumen was again put on display during the Karnataka Assembly polls in May where he along with Ghulam Nabi Azad was instrumental in forging a post-poll alliance with the Janata Dal (Secular) to form the government.
A law graduate from Jodhpur University, Gehlot partnered Pilot in reviving the Congress fortunes in Rajasthan and bring it back to power.
Extensively campaigning across the state for the Assembly polls, Gehlot focused on reaching out to the rural masses, particularly farmers, which yielded desired results. The Congress won 99 of the 199 seats. With farmers’ loan waiver as its major poll promise, it did extremely well in rural areas.
His long association with Rajasthan politics, including his two stints as the Chief Minister and as the former head of the party’s state unit, will surely be of immense help to Gehlot who has represented the Sardarpura Assembly constituency in Jodhpur since 1999.
For the man who once said “I would have been a magician if I had not entered politics”, the stakes are really high especially when the 2019 mega poll battle is just months away. Riding on the “Modi wave”, the BJP in 2014 made a clean sweep of all the 25 Lok Sabha seats in the state.
Besides delivering as a Chief Minister, Gehlot is also tasked to keep the flock together for the major battle next year. He also has to humour the smaller parties backing the Congress.
He will have to honour the Congress promises of farm loans waiver and jobs for the youth as well as override the “Modi influence”.
The Congress ousted the Vasundhara Raje-led BJP in the Hindi heartland state, winning the election narrowly though. But with Rajasthan facing an acute agrarian crisis and unemployment galore, Gehlot’s task is cut out.