New Delhi: Ashok Gehlot, the “political magician" who has managed to outwit his opponents, including within the Congress, is the front runner to become the chief minister of Rajasthan for third time. A Gandhi loyalist who has closely worked with three generations of the family, Gehlot first came into prominence when he became one of the youngest members of Parliament (MP) from Jodhpur in the 1980 general elections.

Gehlot is a typical politician, who has risen from the ranks—from being a member of the National Students Union of India (NSUI) to a district president, and then picked by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to become a member in her council of ministers.

Coming from a family of magicians, Gehlot is a first-generation politician in a party which often gets criticized for promoting dynasties. While being an apprentice to his father, Babu Laxman Singh Gehlot, a magician, he was first spotted by Sanjay Gandhi. During his tenure as a minister in Indira Gandhi’s government, Gehlot handled tourism, civil aviation and sports. He went on to becoming the youngest chief of the Congress in Rajasthan under the leadership of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1985. He was all of 34.

“Ashok Gehlot’s biggest USP is that he has a clean image, is very down to earth and is easily accessible even for a common party worker. He was very close to Rajiv Gandhi and has spent decades being a loyal party soldier. The party needs him for 2019 and, even if he becomes the chief minister, he will be closely involved with political strategizing," a senior party leader said, requesting anonymity.

While shuttling between national and state politics, Gehlot again became a Union minister in 1991 when P.V. Narsimha Rao was the prime minister. This was his last stint in national politics, as he had made up his mind to focus on Rajasthan. He returned as state president of the Congress in 1994 and became the chief minister for the first time in 1998. His second term as chief minister started in 2008 when he led the Congress to defeat Vasundhara Raje’s government.

After staying away from national politics for nearly 25 years, his return to the big stage was planned by Congress president Rahul Gandhi who needed his own strategist to tackle the assembly elections in Gujarat and Karnataka. Gehlot was made general secretary, organization, earlier this year. Following the disastrous performance of the Congress in the 2014 general elections and the growing charisma of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi had to look at the political maturity of the old guard to tackle a surging BJP.

Gehlot did not prove Gandhi wrong, humbling the BJP to its worst performance in Gujarat in two decades, and then stopping the party from forming a government in Karnataka by forging a timely alliance with the JD(S)—even after the BJP emerged as the single largest party.

The final battle with the BJP was in the recently concluded assembly elections in Rajasthan, where Gehlot managed to defeat the BJP, which had won all the 25 Lok Sabha seats in the 2014 general elections, and 163 seats in the 200- member assembly in 2013.

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