Image Credit: ANI

In India, Ashok Gehlot, 71, Chief Minister (CM) of Rajasthan, was the Gandhi family anointed and favoured candidate for the office of president of the country’s oldest political party — the Congress.

Gehlot, dealt a death blow to his candidature, and the halo around the job of Congress president by clinging on to his office in Jaipur.

A death blow was also dealt to the hopes and ambitions of Sachin Pilot, 45, who had been waiting patiently for his turn at the job of CM.

How the mighty fall

As Gehlot turned rebel and insulted the central “observers” sent by Sonia Gandhi, interim Congress president, the one unmentionable reality of the Congress was apparent in stark relief — the once all powerful and haughty high command of the Congress — read the Gandhi family — had collapsed. It was neither high nor had any authority to command.

Sonia Gandhi, the longest serving president in Congress history, was said to be upset at the gross indiscipline of Gehlot. The shrewd leader had orchestrated a near total rebellion of the Congress Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) in Rajasthan, who had a one liner demand — anybody but Sachin Pilot as the state’s CM.

Worse for Sonia Gandhi, another old family loyalist, Kamal Nath, was summoned and asked to run for Congress president.

To Gandhi’s consternation, he said a firm no and said he would prefer to work in Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh, where Kamal Nath ran a short-lived Congress government.

Not reading the tea leaves?

The terrible choices and bad judgements of the Gandhi family called in question their political smarts and abilities to read politics in India. It seemed as the party became Gandhi heavy (all three Gandhi family members are in politics), the political decision making suffered.

Sonia Gandhi once ran the party with an iron hand with the late Ahmed Patel as the enforcer of decisions. Now even Gehlot, who had acquiesced to become Congress president, was publicly insulting her authority.

Gehlot had always projected himself as the uber family loyalist, ready to make any sacrifice for the Gandhi family. So what made him turn? Sources close to Gehlot say in his final two hour meeting with Mrs Gandhi, he twice asked about what would happen in Jaipur.

Gandhi was vague in her response, telling him to leave it to her. Gehlot then tried another tactic, saying that she should take in account the wishes of the MLAs. Gandhi apparently also waved it off.

This angered Gehlot who knew he was taking a job where all the power would reside with Rahul Gandhi while optics would make him look like a Gandhi family puppet.

In another age when the Gandhi family used to be voter catchers, this arm-twisting might have worked. Not now. Gehlot, who commands the full loyalties of his MLAs, was not falling for it.

Image Credit: ANI

Gehlot overplayed his hand

Pilot who had led a failed rebellion two years ago, was publicly humiliated again. Earlier Gehlot had publicly called him names, saying he was a “nalayak” (incompetent).

This time around, Pilot maintained a stoic silence in public but communicated to the Gandhi family that he had enough of the public humiliation heaped on him. Pilot also leached valuable political capital by the fact that 92 MLAs did not want him to be CM at any cost.

The Pilot camp maintained that Gehlot had overstepped his boundaries and overplayed his hand. He may lose both the putative job as Congress president and Rajasthan CM as the party looks set to take disciplinary action against him.

Gehlot certainly seems to have shot himself in the foot when it came to the president’s job, which he didn’t want but, as the job he values (he’s still Rajasthan CM a full two days after his rebellion) may be at stake now.

With Rahul Gandhi continues his back seat driving and control of the party, only his mother seems to be ready to be the puppet president of the Congress. And, that is the lesson from Rajasthan.

Nobody wants to be Rahul Gandhi puppet, even in the Congress.