NEW DELHI: Though the supporters of Sachin Pilot and TS Singh Deo have started hoping for a change of guard in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh respectively after the leadership change in another Congress-ruled state of Punjab where Amarinder Singh gave way to Charanjit Singh Channi as chief minister, their wishes may not get fulfilled, at least not in the near future.
The circumstances in Punjab are very much different from either Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh for the Congress leadership to show any urgency in dethroning Ashok Gehlot and Bhupesh Bhagel as chief ministers in the two respective states.
The hopes of Pilot’s supporters might have brightened after he met Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi along with the All India Congress Committee (AICC) in-charge of Rajasthan Ajay Maken a day before Amarinder stepped down as Punjab CM.
Moreover, the Rajasthan BJP added wings to the hopes of Pilot’s supporters with state party president Satish Poonia alleging that Gehlot was worried about his own fate after Amarinder quit as the Punjab chief minister.
"The developments in Punjab show that even senior Congress leaders are disillusioned with the party. The Congress is counting its last breaths and Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot is more worried about his chair," he told mediapersons.
On the other hand in Chhattisgarh, state health minister TS Singh Deo reached Delhi after a leadership change in Punjab, though he called it his personal visit.
Singh Deo expects the Congress leadership to pressure Bhipesh Baghel and hand over chief ministership to him to honour an unwritten agreement. After the Congress won the 2018 Chhattisgarh assembly election, an understanding for rotation of the CM’s chair is believed to have been reached between Baghel and Singh Deo.
However, despite the hopes of rival factions, the Congress leadership may not be in a hurry to change either Gehlot or Baghel. In Rajasthan, Pilot’s supporters may have to remain content with what would be a reshuffle of Gehlot’s council of ministers with inclusion of the sulking leader’s loyalists in it and a few posts of chairpersons in state boards and commissions.
Neither Gehlot nor Baghel enjoys the stature which Amarinder does within the Congress. Rahul Gandhi was forced to announce Amarinder as the CM candidate before the 2017 Punjab assembly election. But neither Gehlot nor Baghel got the same privilege ahead of the Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh state polls in 2018.
Amarinder, a scion of the erstwhile Patiala kingdom, is considered to be a tall leader. He is believed to have steered the Congress to victory in the previous election without seeking much help from the central party leadership, particularly the Nehru-Gandhis.
A former army officer, he is known to be a nationalist who, on several occasions in the past, has won the encomiums from the rival BJP in matters of national security.
Amarinder, who is also fondly called “Captain” because of his Army background, is also a bold leader who speaks his mind. In the past, he has not even spared Rahul Gandhi. As a result, the former Punjab CM and the Nehru-Gandhi did not enjoy the most cordial of relations.
In contrast, both Gehlot and Baghel are seen as docile leaders, at least with respect to the party’s first family. The two are amenable to implementing the wishes of the Nehru-Gandhis’ wishes. As both of them do not pose any threat in the short or long terms, they may be allowed to continue as CMs.
Personal equation with Nehru-Gandhis
Amarinder had studied with interim Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s husband and former prime minister late Rajiv Gandhi in the Doon School. He and Rajiv were friends and the latter is believed to have impressed upon the former Army officer to join politics.
Both Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra address Amarinder as “Uncle” due to the proximity he enjoyed with their father. He treats the two and Sonia more as family friends than seniors in politics. Otherwise, even the tallest of Congress leaders present themselves subserviently befor the party's first family.
On September 22, a few days after he relinquished the CM's post, Amarinder's media adviser Raveen Thukral tweeted on his behalf to say: "Priyanka Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are like my children. This should not have ended like this. I'm hurt. Fact is the Gandhi siblings are inexperienced and their advisors are clearly misguiding them."
'@priyankagandhi & @RahulGandhi are like my children…this should not have ended like this. I'm hurt. Fact is the Ga… https://t.co/y87qaN7BFD— Raveen Thukral (@RT_Media_Capt) 1632314582000
This might also have been a reason why the Gandhi family decided to sacrifice him at the altar despite his high popularity ratings in Punjab till the revolt was engineered against him.
Relation with alternatives
Due to the insecurities, the Congress leadership augmented the stature of Navjot Singh Sidhu vis-a-vis Amarinder. Even though Sidhu is a former BJP leader, he got easy access to Rahul, Priyanka and Sonia.
On the other hand, Amarinder could hardly get an audience with the party’s first family on most of the occasions in the recent past.
As against Sidhu, neither Pilot nor Singh Deo are treated as the Nehru-Gandhis’ favourites.
Sidhu had his way in getting appointed as Punjab Congress president and playing a stellar role in the ouster of Amarinder. Neither Pilot nor Singh Deo enjoy the same rapport with the Nehru-Gandhis.