New Delhi: The Congress party on Wednesday announced that both its key leaders in Rajasthan, former chief minister Ashok Gehlot and state unit president Sachin Pilot, will contest the assembly polls to be held on 7 December.

The move set off speculation on whether it is an outcome of factionalism in the state unit or an attempt by the top leadership to unite its forces to trounce the chief minister Vasundhara Raje-led ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in the state.

“There were a lot of rumours doing the rounds that the Congress is divided.... We are hitting the ground together for the elections. Sachin Pilot will contest the elections. I will contest the elections. Everyone will contest the elections," Gehlot said at a joint press conference with Pilot in the national capital on Wednesday.

The move has brought the factional fight between the two leaders in the open as Gehlot, the MLA of Sardarpura in Jodhpur, continues to have significant influence in the politics of the state. Pilot, handpicked by Congress president Rahul Gandhi, has been credited with improving the party’s fortunes and rebuilding its organization after it was reduced to nearly one-tenth of the assembly seats in 2013.

Senior party leaders said the decision to field both Pilot and Gehlot has to be also seen in the light of the official position of the Congress that in case of victory the elected MLAs would choose the chief minister.

“Gehlot is a sitting MLA and so repeating him as a candidate is understandable. A shift from the usual norm is Pilot being fielded because he is state unit chief but not a sitting MLA. There are certain concerns over whether Gehlot’s work as organization in-charge will be affected with Rajasthan in focus," a senior party leader said requesting anonymity.

There were lot of rumours that the Congress is divided... Sachin & I are hitting the ground together, says Gehlot - Ashok Gehlot

The decision to field the two top leaders in Rajasthan is in sharp contrast to another poll-bound state, Madhya Pradesh, where none of the top leaders is contesting the elections. Interestingly, while the filing of nominations for Rajasthan began on Monday and ends on 19 November, the Congress is yet to release its list of candidates.

“The list of candidates has not yet been put out. We are assuming that there is serious infighting between the two leaders, which has delayed the announcement. It is not just about these two leaders. There are regional players and rebels from the BJP who want their share of the pie. It is conspicuous that all is not well with the party," said Sanjay Lodha, head of the political science department at Mohan Lal Sukhadia University in Udaipur.

On Wednesday, Lok Sabha member of Parliament from Dausa, Harish Meena of the BJP, joined the Congress in New Delhi and Habibur Rahaman of the BJP, an MLA from Nagaur, returned to the Congress after a decade.

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