As the stand-off between Rajasthan Governor Kalraj Mishra and Chief Minister (CM) Ashok Gehlot intensified on Wednesday after the governor turned down Gehlot’s request to hold an Assembly session on July 31, the Rajasthan CM hunkered down for a fight to take the issue to the people. He held a Cabinet meeting and met the governor ‘to find out what he wants’. But from a legal and constitutional tussle, Gehlot is slowly turning the survival of the Congress government into a political issue.
The governor returned a revised proposal containing the response to the three queries posed by him. According to Mishra, the state government insisted he was not only bound to accept its recommendation, but also had no right to know the reasons behind it.
The governor said the Rajasthan Legislative Assembly rules mandated a 21-day notice to all MLAs. Thereafter, he asked the Rajasthan government to furnish reasons for demanding the Assembly session at such short notice. Mishra maintained that a floor test with social distancing norms was a valid reason to summon the special Assembly session. At the same time, he opined it would be appropriate to commence the monsoon session of the Assembly with a notice of 21 days in the current circumstances.
Gehlot, who met the governor for the fourth time on Wednesday, consulted his Cabinet, but it seemed a change in strategy was on the cards. Addressing party workers, he said the injustice done to him and the Congress government was monstrous. “I have worked 21 hours a day to ensure Covid-19 is brought under control in the state. None other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi has publicly lauded the efforts Rajasthan is taking in the struggle against the pandemic. The people of Rajasthan know this. We have to return to the people to tell them how unfairly we are being treated,” he said.
His Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) said the Assemblies of Goa, Puducherry, and Uttarakhand had held sessions despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
Gehlot wants to present a united front with new Pradesh Congress Committee Chief Govind Singh Dotasra, who was appointed within hours of sacking rebel leader Sachin Pilot from the position. He wants to give the new incumbent a chance to prove his mettle to render Pilot politically irrelevant. Pilot on Wednesday tweeted he hoped Dotasra would act impartially and take into account the views of all party workers without any pressure or prejudice.
This is being interpreted as a tactical move by Pilot to show he is not leaving the party, and a renewed attempt to make friends with those MLAs who might have an animus with the CM.
Party insiders said Gehlot has always seen himself as an organisation man, and he will now retake control of the party organisation. Among the plans being discussed are a demonstration in Delhi before Rashtrapati Bhavan, a one-day session of the state Congress, and extensive tours of the state.
Meanwhile, because of the contradictions within the state Bharatiya Janata Party (there are murmurs that the governor’s inflexibility could be politically inimical to the BJP), the party is chary of making any abrupt and overt moves to topple the government.
While a section of the party, led by former CM Vasundhara Raje, has described the differences between Gehlot and Pilot as a struggle for power within the party (defining Pilot squarely as a Congressman), others say they are getting little support from the central party for a ‘Topple Gehlot’ operation. All this is to Gehlot’s advantage — and he wants to keep it that way.
The danger now comes from the high court which is hearing a plea it had dismissed earlier — from the Bahujan Samaj Party against the ‘merger’ of six MLAs into the Congress. If the six are disqualified, there will be clear and present danger to the Gehlot government’s survival.