Sachin Pilot (Left) and Ashok Gehlot in happier times (File) Image Credit: Supplied

“Don’t take Modi’s praise lightly”, Congress leader Sachin Pilot quipped to the media last week on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s words of praise for his bete noire, Rajasthan Chief Minister, Ashok Gehlot. “The PM similarly praised Ghulam Nabi Azad in Parliament and we all saw what happened”, Sachin said, as he took a direct dig at Gehlot.

Sachin Pilot’s public comments show his exasperation with the Congress leadership which has dithered on the leadership issue in Rajasthan for long enough. This mess falls squarely at the doorstep of the Gandhis who made a hash of Punjab and laid the ground for more hara-kiri in Rajasthan.

Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge, who took charge only last month, is therefore facing his first major challenge in trying to resolve this feud.

On September 25, most Congress MLAs in the state skipped a Congress legislature party meeting to choose a new Chief Minister after the “high command” pushed Gehlot to contest for the Congress president’s post.

The MLAs, all Gehlot loyalists, said they wouldn’t accept a “unilateral” decision on a new leader. That new leader was widely expected to be Sachin Pilot, who is understood to have been assured of the top job by the Gandhis.

The legislature party drama led to disciplinary notices against top Gehlot aides. The media was told the Congress would be taking a call on the state leadership “in one or two days”. More than a month has passed with nothing happening.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said it was reasonable to have ambition in politics but it was the "approach (of Sachin) that made the difference". Image Credit: Supplied

There was also a warning by party general secretary KC Venugopal to all Congress leaders on September 29 to refrain from making any statements attacking each other in public.

But only days later, Gehlot tossed aside that directive and attacked Pilot and state in charge Ajay Maken without naming them. This brazen defiance has been coupled with complete silence from the Congress leadership in Delhi.

Meanwhile emboldened by this dithering, Gehlot has been busy publishing full page advertisements in national newspapers in praise of his government.

Sachin Pilot has to shoulder some blame too. He tried to rebel against the party in 2020 just like Jyotiraditya Scindia but failed. Sources say he was in close touch with the BJP at the time. After that, he lost his deputy Chief Ministership but was promised the Chief Minister’s post eventually. However, he has been cooling his heels.

Ultimately, the responsibility to resolve factionalism rests with the party leadership which has an abysmal track record.

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We saw what happened in Madhya Pradesh with Scindia walking away with a chunk of MLAs and bringing down Kamal Nath’s government.

Lack of decisive action in Punjab cost the Congress that key state as well, with Amarinder Singh walking away just before the polls and Rahul Gandhi declaring Charanjit Channi as the CM face. That decision backfired spectacularly as we know.

Ashok Gehlot is a smart politician. The Congress needs him and has to play its cards carefully in Rajasthan.

Sachin Pilot thinks he really has nothing more to lose at this point and so has fired this fresh salvo. State elections are barely a year away. Knowing the Congress track record, it does not bode well for the party.