New Delhi: Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Friday attempted to strike a fine balance between the old guard and young blood in Rajasthan, picking veteran Ashok Gehlot as the next chief minister and pushing young leader Sachin Pilot as his deputy. The move is significant as Gandhi has made a strong bid to accommodate the two factions in the new government.
Gehlot is a veteran politician and a two-time chief minister, while Pilot has been credited with improving the party’s organizational strength at the ground level in the last four years.
“Congress president Rahul Gandhi has decided to appoint Ashok Gehlot as the next chief minister of Rajasthan. Sachin Pilot will be the deputy chief minister of the state," K.C. Venugopal, party observer for the state, said at a joint media briefing with both Pilot and Gehlot at the Congress headquarters in New Delhi.
Gehlot, 67, will be at the helm of Rajasthan’s affairs for a third time. His earlier stints were in 1998 and 2013. Now, he and Vasundhara Raje of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who was the chief minister from whom Gehlot will take over, have alternated at the post in Rajasthan for more than two decades now.
“I want to thank Rahul Gandhi for bringing me at the helm of Rajasthan again. Me and my colleague, Sachin Pilot, along with all the ministers who are going to take oath, will provide good governance in Rajasthan. We will work on and restart projects that have been stopped," Gehlot said.
There was a lot of jockeying for the post for the past two days. Pilot’s supporters were upset over the delay in announcement and a perception that Gehlot was the frontrunner. This led to protests in the state, some of them turning violent. As such, there is speculation that the protests prompted the Congress leadership to make the announcement in the national capital and not Jaipur.
The party, however, attempted to project a united face on Friday. “Mera aur Ashokji ka jaadoo poori tarah chal gaya. Hum ab sarkaar banaane wale hain (Both mine and Ashokji’s magic has worked and we are going to form government now)," Pilot said.
Gandhi will now have to find a person to fill the key post of general secretary in charge of the organization, a position that Gehlot held since taking over the post earlier this year. The veteran leader was seen as one of the key strategists for the Lok Sabha elections next year.
The decision came a day after Gandhi chose Kamal Nath as chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. The Congress president appears to have prioritized the old over the young guard as the party looks to maximize its electoral gains ahead of the 2019 general elections.
However, three days after counting, there was no clarity over the choice of the chief ministerial candidate in Chhattisgarh where the party has swept to power. A series of meetings took place among office bearers of the state unit in the national capital, following which they met Gandhi.
“We have been holding meetings and are hopeful that the name of the new chief minister will be announced soon. Given that it was a huge mandate, we are ensuring that every stakeholder is reached out to," a top party leader from the state said requesting anonymity.