It has taken place more than a year and a half after the bitter clash between Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his deputy Sachin Pilot. It has been a long time coming but given the rampant factionalism in the Congress and the subterranean currents of disaffection with the party leadership, the patch-up in Rajasthan gives the Congress something of a fillip in a State that is headed for the polls in two years.
As many as five Sachin Pilot loyalists have been inducted into the Cabinet. Pilot’s decision not to accept a post, within the government and the party, is probably a wise one. At one level, it helps avert the criticism that the political row was only about power and position; it gives Pilot the latitude to argue he was waging a battle for greater inclusivity, one that is reflected, for example, in the inclusion of four Dalits in the Cabinet. At another level, opting to go back to being Deputy Chief Minister would have constrained his hand. From the outside, he can now put pressure on Gehlot through his loyalists on the inside.
The big question of course is whether the new arrangement will work satisfactorily and how long it will hold. It is naïve to believe that the fractious history between Gehlot and Pilot can be papered over by something as simple as a High Command-engineered Cabinet reshuffle. Pilot’s claim that the reshuffle disproved the very existence of factionalism in a party and that the only faction was the one headed by the Gandhi family is far from convincing. The success of the new arrangement will depend on such things as the latitude Gehlot gives the Pilot loyalists in running their ministries, the willingness of these loyalists to work in a disciplined fashion under the Chief Minister, and the deftness with which the party High Command can strike an equitable balance between the political interests of the two leaders.
This is no easy task as the fall-out was of a serious nature. In July last year, Pilot had gathered 18 MLAs and staked a claim to the chief ministership on the ground that he had the support of a dozen more. Such a gambit would not have succeeded without the support of the BJP. In the face of the threat, Gehlot was able to achieve two objectives. First, to keep the remaining flock of MLAs together and, secondly, to charge Pilot with attempting to topple his government with the help of the BJP, an allegation that resonated with the party leadership.
Pilot and his camp followers have been out in the cold since then. And this is a rehabilitation of sorts, given that a couple of members who were sacked by Gehlot during the crisis (along with Pilot) have been given re-entry into the Cabinet. Pilot now has no post either in Rajasthan or at the national level in the Congress. The Gandhi family will know that, in the long run, they will have to find a way of including him formally in the political scheme of things as well.