18 December was one of those rare days when both BJP and Congress were celebrating when the results for the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assembly elections were announced. Despite of losing in both the states, Congress was celebrating its moral victory in Gujarat, as after almost two decades it had given a tough fight to the ruling BJP and brought its tally below 100 seats.
Though BJP won in Gujarat, but it managed to nail only 99 seats and it was for the first time since 1985 that it came to power in Gujarat that the party did not cross 100 setas. Unlike in Gujarat, it managed a greater majority in Himachal Pradesh. Congress even though lost the elections but was feeling victorious in Gujarat as it had undoubtedly given a tough time to the ruling BJP in the battleground and the credit of this was given to the dedicated campaigning of Congress President Rahul Gandhi, who was then the vice-president of the party and the Party in-charge and former Chief Minister of Rajasthan Ashok Gehlot.
A few months back when former Congress leader Shankersinh Vaghela had left the Congress, leaving the party divided, it was Ashok Gehlot who brought the party back together. From the campaigning of Rahul Gandhi to the alliance with the community leaders, all the background base was prepared by Ashok Gehlot.
After NDA government under the leadership of Narendra Modi coming to power in 2014, the Congress party was already fighting for its survival. At such critical situation when the party had lost all hopes and the Movi wave in full motion, during the Gujarat elections, the Gujarat Congress leaders accepted the leadership of Ashok Gehlot as their lifesaver. He had decades of political experience and this experience definitely benefitted the Congress in Gujarat and this could be seen in the party’s performance during the assembly elections. The former Rajasthan Chief Minister also played a major role in the distribution of the tickets.
It is also being speculated that the major changes seen in the newly appointed Congress President are also due to the efforts of Ashok Gehlot. He was on his toes throughout the Gujarat campaigning directing leaders and making plans for the elections rallies and the results could be seen, when Congress, after almost two decades had forced the BJP to be worried.
The Congress’s performance in nine assembly seats in North Gujarat, which is situated on the Rajasthan border, was spectacular. Congress won 7 of these 9 frontline seats, while BJP managed to nail two seats. But this performance can increase the tensions for the high command as the results of the Gujarat assembly elections will definitely impact the Rajasthan assembly elections which are due in 2018.
Rahul Gandhi had already handed over the command of Rajasthan to his close friend and youth Gurjar leader Sachin Pilot. Sachin Pilot was made the President of Rajasthan Congress before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. However, it did not improve the performance of the Congress in the state and lost all the seats of Rajasthan in the Lok Sabha elections. Pilot himself lost his Lok Sabha seat in Ajmer. In spite of this, Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party have confidence in him. Congress has decided to contest the Rajasthan assembly elections in 2018 under the leadership of Sachin Pilot. He is working hard at the ground level and has been seen holding rallies, be it for the farmers or the Jat-Gujjar reservation. Pilot has a strong foothold among the youth in Rajasthan and also enjoys the benefits of the political goodwill of his father Rajesh Pilot and therefore has the support of the Congress veterans as well. In such a scenario, while Sachin is a strong candidate for the Congress, the path for Ashok Gehlot may become rocky after handling the Gujarat elections, with Sachin in charge of Rajasthan.
Due to the improved performance of the Congress in the Gujarat assembly elections, state Congress in-charge Ashok Gehlot’s stature has increased in the party. On one hand, in Himachal Pradesh and Bihar, Sushil Kumar Shinde and CP Joshi had failed to hold the party unit intact. On the other hand, Ashok Gehlot did not only concede the Congress who was suffering from the revolt of Shankersinh Vaghela in Gujarat but decades later but was successful in getting the Congress stand on the equal platform with BJP in the political turmoil in Gujarat.
The political impact of Ashok Gehlot was clearly seen in all the assembly areas of Gujarat, which was situated on the border of Rajasthan. Ashok Gehlot has been the Chief Minister of Rajasthan twice. A clique of senior Congress leaders in Rajasthan is still loyal to Ashok Gehlot and is working to create a political atmosphere in his favor. In such a way, bypassing Ashok Gehlot and favouring Sachin Pilot during the Rajasthan assembly elections, can be a risk for the party.
There was a time when Congress was dominating all fronts of India, at the Centre as well as at the states, there was no one to compete the party. After the rule of Indira Gandhi Congress gradually diminished and the Left along with the right wing organizations also made a strong knock in Indian politics. Since the formation of the Bharatiya Janata Party, it mad Hindutva as its main issue and turning the Ram Mandir issue in its favour during the 90’s brought a new political revolution in the country.
Today, the charismatic duo of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have become an absurd puzzle for the Congress and the BJP is once again getting power in all the major states of the country. In the assembly elections held after 2014, the Congress has been unable to save its thone in any state.
During the 2017 Gujarat Assembly elections, many changes could be seen in the political equations and the trump cards played by the political parties. Because the Congress relied on the ‘KHAM’ equation their loyalist, Patidars had inclined towards the BJP back in the 90’s. During the 1995 assembly elections in Gujarat, the BJP made Keshubhai Patel as their face and played the risk of winning the election with Patidars as their backbone, and they were successful. the 90’s decade had been in highlight due to the demolition of the Babri Masjid also and BJP playing the Hindutva card also took advantage of it and won the polls. For the first time, BJP had come to power in Gujarat with an absolute majority and the government was formed under the leadership of Keshubhai Patel.
Since then the situations were such that Congress could not regain power in Gujarat and even after 22 years it was suffering the political exile from the state. But after almost 2 decades it was for the first time that in 2017 Congress gave a tough fight to the BJP which brought the party on its toes giving it tensions. Congress President Rahul Gandhi was fighting day and night to win the polls and the man making the political strategies for him was Ashok Gehlot.
With the backing of the supporters of the Patidars and the Hindutva friendly image, the BJP had won the election in Gujarat from the last 5 times, but this time it seemed to have turned upside down. The BJP had gone on the backfoot in Gujarat due to the rebel of its traditional vote-bank the Patidars and an anti-incumbency wave. Also, the BJP of Gujarat did not have a popular and strong face like Narendra Modi this time, which could have saved the party in the elections.
In such circumstances, Ashok Gehlot started creating an atmosphere in favor of the Congress. Congress President Rahul Gandhi had played Soft Hindutva card and shook the foundation of BJP by pursuing smoky campaign and caste equations. The reason behind the political activism of Rahul Gandhi and the improving grip of Congress was Confidant of Rajiv Gandhi and Former Chief Minister of Rajasthan Ashok Gehlot.
Although, Sonia Gandhi’s political advisor and Gujarat Congress Rajya Sabha member, Ahmed Patel was known as the Chanakya of Congress, but this role was played by Ashok Gehlot during the 2017 Gujarat Assembly elections. Gehlot has been trusted by the Gandhi family since the 80’s and was brought into the national politics form the Rajasthan politics by former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Ashok Gehlot was the Union minister in the government of Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao. Because of his proximity to the Gandhi family, Ashok Gehlot was also the Chief Minister of Rajasthan twice.
Immediately after the presidential election, veteran Congressman Shankarsinh Vaghela rebelled against the party and quit Congress Because of this, the claim of Congress candidate Ahmed Patel in the Rajya Sabha elections was in danger. Despite all the misfortunes, Congress Chanakya Ahmed Patel succeeded in breaking the BJP’s political plots. Ashok Gehlot has also played a major role in the victory of Ahmed Patel in the Gujarat Rajya Sabha elections.
This time Congress had not fielded Ahmed Patel in the campaign for the Gujarat assembly elections, yet, nobody in the state denied his importance. After the rebellion of Shankarsinh Vaghela, the Gujarat Congress was left with leaders like Shaktisinh Gohil, Bharatsinh Solanki and Arjun Modwadia. All these were regional leaders and none of them was worthy of raising the party’s responsibility alone. In such delicate circumstances, Ashok Gehlot had spent months in Gujarat working to reorganise the Congress and boost energy in the Congress workers.
BJP President Amit Shah throughout the campaigning in Gujarat was boasting about winning 150+ seats. But Asoka Gehlot’s political management and community card made all his claims windy. Congress joined hands with every leader who opposed the BJP in Gujarat and tried to make the political atmosphere in favor of the Congress. This effort proved to be very effective and the Congress managed to do its best in the last 22 years.
The Congress had been demanding to make Rahul Gandhi party president for a long time. Congress President Sonia Gandhi had also expressed the desire that Rahul Gandhi would now take charge of the Congress. In this way, the improved performance of the Congress in the Gujarat assembly elections proved to be a good platform for Rahul Gandhi. After Rahul was elected as the Congress President, the Gujarat assembly election was like his first litmus test, in which he passed with flying colors. The reason seen behind this success of Rahul Gandhi is his political expert Ashok Gehlot.
The spectacular performance of Congress in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP Party President Amit Shah Gujarat which is also known as the fort of BJP has undoubtedly heightened the stature of Rahul Gandhi in the party and has given a platform to the acceptance of him as the party Party President. The Congress leader was constantly seen politically active in Gujarat, which is a good sign for the political future of Congress. He had also cast a caste equation in Gujarat to stop the BJP and had learned his first caste politics lesson and it was none other than Ashok Gehlot who guided him throughout.
Gujarat was the only state in the country where with the last several elections, BJP was fighting the elections by making the development the main issue and winning it. During the tenure of Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP’s popularity was at its peak in Gujarat and the state was at the leading position in the list of the most prosperous states of the country. But Gujarat which was known for its development throughout India entangled in the politics of caste mathematics this time.
So far, the image of the Congress in the country was Muslim friendly or a minority friendly party and in every election Muslim voters openly supported the Congress. In the Gujarat assembly elections, for the cut of the BJP’s traditional Hindutva card this time, Congress played the instrument of raising caste voters. Ashok Gehlot made an untimely endeavor to bring about the political transformation of Gujarat by joining the leaders of Patidar, OBC and Dalit society against the ruling BJP government in Gujarat.
The one-sided Gujarat election had remained away from all predictions and estimates this time and the difference between the BJP and the Congress was marginal. History is witness to the fact that the BJP always gets entangled in the ranks of caste politics and it is not able to overcome it. The Bihar assembly election is a direct example of this when the BJP had to face OBC-Yadav-Muslim equation. Although, in Gujarat, the naïve of the BJP came across somehow, but certainly the Congress managed to break it.
For the BJP’s Hindutva card cut, Gujarat Congress in-charge Ashok Gehlot played Congress’s community card in front of BJP’s Hindutva and Vikas card. The trilogy of the leaders of the reservation movement became a trap for the BJP Gujarat. This trio of Alpesh Thakor, Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mewani proved to be equally beneficial for the Congress as harmful to the BJP.
Ashok Gehlot played an active role behind forming the alliance with these trio leaders. From listening to their demands to reaching an amicable solution, all was taken care by Gehlot himself. While Alpesh Thakur and his loyalist contested the elections under the Congress, the party had given support to Jignesh Mewani’s Independent candidature. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi seemed disturbed by the community card that the Congress was playing, This was clear when during his speeches he said that the people of Gujarat should not get distracted and leave the path of development to walk on the path of castes.
Usually, it is seen that if the state in charge is from a different state, he is not given much importance by the party members. A clear example of this could be seen in Himachal Pradesh when former Chief Minister Virbhdra Singh threatened to rebel during the ticket distribution. But this was not the case in Gujarat. The decisions of Ashok Gehlot were accepted with much respect and this further strengthened the unity of the party in the state during the elections.
Rahul Gandhi went to the temples in Gujarat on his election rounds and wore tilak on his forehead. His frequent visits to the temples and incarnation in political corridors remained the subject of discussion. Two decades ago the BJP had ousted the Congress from the power by forming this Hindutva issue and the Congress was trying to reach the power of Gujarat by supporting this Hindutva friendly image. Rahul Gandhi was campaigning in Gujarat but his eyes were on Delhi. Ashok Gehlot was also doing the work of polishing Rahul’s image so that in 2019 he emerged as the alternative to PM Narendra Modi for the opposition.
The credibility of Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan is not reduced even today, and a big portion of the Congress is still his loyal. Under the guidance of Gehlot, seeing the improvement in Congress’s performance in the Gujarat assembly elections, the fear of factionalism in the Rajasthan Congress has increased. In front of Congress today, there is a crisis of saving its political existence in the country and Ashok Gehlot can show the Congress a new road in Rajasthan. The people of Rajasthan have repeatedly tried the BJP and the Congress and Ashok Gehlot has been the Chief Minister of the state twice. From political perspective to public popularity, he has no competitor in the Rajasthan Congress right now.
While on the other hand, if talk of the present Congress state Congress President Sachin Pilot, then there is no doubt about his popularity in the youth category. Not only in Rajasthan Congress but also in the BJP there is no Gujjar leader of his stature. Pilot’s father and former Union Minister Late Rajesh Pilot has been a stoic politician, and because of this, Sachin Pilot’s claim is strong. Apart from this Sachin also enjoys the support of newly elected Congress President Rahul Gandhi.
The way Rahul Gandhi work is a bit different and he is known for giving preference to youth rather than the experienced politicians. But it will be difficult for him to choose the face of Congress in Rajasthan, because on one hand, while Ashok Gehlot is his political mentor, on the other hand, Sachin Pilot is his close aide. In such a situation he cannot take the risk to make anyone unhappy. Above all, Rahul Gandhi will have to listen to party workers in Rajasthan who are steadily being divided into two factions, on the basis of supporters od Gehlot and Pilot. With one wrong decision, the Congress may have to face ruckus in Rajasthan and rebellion can rise in the party state unit.
Speculations are being made that Congress can send Ashok Gehlot to the Rajya Sabha or give him a bigger position in the party organization to avoid this choosing. In Rajasthan, the face of Congress will be Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot will be given a big national role and will be made Rahul Gandhi’s political guide. In such a situation, the Congress must take the decision cautiously about Ashok Gehlot’s role, otherwise, it may be very risky for the Congress to sideline the man Rajasthan who brought the party its pride back in Gujarat.