Ashok Gehlot is one politician, who surely knows few tricks and his jugglery in politics always leaves his follower bemused, supporters amused and distracters confused. With regime as Rajasthan Chief Minister behind him and ample experience in parliament, Gehlot is surely one of the most experienced parliamentarians from Rajasthan today.
Gehlot has risen from humble middle class background from the narrow alleys of Jodhpur’s walled city in the times when dynasty politics ruled the roost in the country. Moreover, he was always pitted against formidable enemies/opponents – Parasram Maderna, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and Vasundhara Raje in his political career spanning more than four decade since 1974. Coming from community from humble gardeners, he lacks unfathomable power of vote bank which Madernas’ and Mirdhas’ enjoyed, never had army of loyal supporters like Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and always been untouchable for political elites – closed society of powerful to which Vasundhara Raje had access as her birth right. Gehlot lacks charisma of Nathuram Mirdha, political maneuvering of Sis Ram Ola and sophistication of Ram Niwas Mirdha. But he has survived against all odds and faced overwhelmingly powerful opponent unscathed.
Today, Ashok Gehlot has his own stature in politics of Rajasthan and unarguably the tallest figure after Bhairon Singh Shekhawat in recent decades. His unwavering loyalty to Gandhis’ – the first family of Congress and commitment to congress ideology are two anchors which has served him well in desperate times. Rajasthan has been crucible for social welfare polices of Congress as Sonia Gandhi flanked by scholars like Jean Drèze and Aruna Roy pushed for Right to Information, assured employment in form of NREGS and more recently Right to Service Guarantee. Rahul Gandhi, himself has conceded many times – including in his Birla auditorium speech in 2013 in Jaipur, that Ashok Gehlot regime in Rajasthan had been run according to congress ideology. So, Gehlot is one leader in congress which cannot be nudged aside in changing times.
But, will he be able to tide the Modi wave in Rajasthan?
Answer is that, he is congress’s best option irrespective of whatever the result will be in 2018 assembly election. Results in Punjab have shown that despite factionalism – which is culture of congress, party has gained by projecting an experienced leader as Chief Ministerial candidate. Despite, Aam Aadmi party (AAP) created tri-angle in most of the contests; Congress has done well in all regions of Punjab – Majha, Doab and Malwa. Pratap Singh Bajwa was favorite of Rahul Gandhi but political maturity of ‘invisible hand’ prevailed in the end, leading to fantastic victory, congress was yearning for since 2014 wipeout.
The game for congress in Rajasthan for 2018 assembly election is panning out very akin to Punjab. Ridden with factions- childish Sachin Pilot calling shots in both- Jaipur and Delhi, CP Joshi holding forte despite being openly beaten by his Bengali friends at 24 Akbar road and fiasco in Manipur, Congress in Rajasthan is rudder less and lacking a ‘Captain’. Gehlot seems to be the only one who can keep the rag-tag ship of congress afloat, at least in Rajasthan.
Why? Reasons are many. First and foremost is that Ashok Gehlot is the only name which sends chills down the spine of BJP leaders as opponent. BJP workers across the India are swearing by invincibility of Narendra Modi after spectacular results in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan is no different. But here is the catch – with Vasundhara Raje at helm, it is going to be an interesting fight if congress plays its cards well.
Rajasthan was one state where UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi had hoped for better results in 2013 but raging Modi wave demolished all hopes. Modi wave is not showing sign of receding at least till 2019, but question is whether congress will be able to put a dyke against it in Rajasthan?