The rapprochement forged between the two warring factions of the Congress in Rajasthan may at best serve as a tenuous truce, given the propensity of the grand old party for groupism. The Cabinet reshuffle, which capped a prolonged phase of infighting between the rival groups headed by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and rebel leader Sachin Pilot, comes after a delicate balancing act by the high command, the second such intervention after Punjab where intense infighting ultimately led to the ignominious exit of incumbent Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh. In Rajasthan, however, Gehlot retains his job but was made to swallow his pride and accommodate the wish list of Pilot by inducting the followers of his bete noire into the Cabinet in the name of balancing the caste equations. Going by the public comments of the Chief Minister, a day ahead of the Cabinet expansion, that he himself had no idea about who would be included in his team, the situation appears to be a temporary truce with enough indications that the wounded veteran might be waiting for an opportunity to strike. His team now has five ministers who are considered close followers of Pilot whose revolt last year had virtually pushed the government to the brink of collapse. This is the first Cabinet reshuffle after Gehlot took charge in 2018 and comes two years ahead of the next Assembly elections. After enforcing the change of guard in the faction-ridden Punjab, the Congress high command chose a different strategy in Rajasthan. By forcing the veteran Chief Minister to induct five loyalists of the rebel leader, it has tried to paper over the cracks.
In the land of factious politics and interplay of fierce loyalties, a desert storm is never far away. The tenure of the truce will now depend on how Gehlot manages to deal with the situation. For the last two decades, power has been alternating between the Congress and BJP in the State. To break this cycle and secure another term, the Congress needs to play its cards carefully. It cannot antagonise the rebel faction and keep it away from power for too long. In fact, Pilot’s followers want him to be made the Chief Minister for at least two years before the polls to ensure the party’s victory in the 2023 polls. However, the high command has only come halfway in meeting the rebel camp’s demands and continues to bet its hopes on Gehlot, the veteran who has weathered many a storm. Pilot, seen as leading the party’s revival in Rajasthan, was a contender for the Chief Minister’s post after the Congress’ win in 2018. But he was persuaded by Rahul Gandhi to take the job of Deputy CM instead. Since then, friction has been simmering between the two camps.
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