Amid the political crisis in Rajasthan, the Congress on Tuesday issued show cause notices to three loyalists of Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot for “grave indiscipline” and sought a reply within 10 days, but did not seek any action against Mr. Gehlot himself.
This keeps the possibility of Mr. Gehlot’s candidature for the party’s presidential election open even though there is no official word from the Rajasthan Chief Minister or the Congress on whether he would file his nomination. Only three days remain now for the nomination process to end on September 30.
There is also talk of a “plan B” among Gandhi family loyalists for the presidential election, with the names of leaders like Digvijaya Singh, and Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, doing the rounds.
The show cause notices were issued on the basis of a report — submitted to Congress president Sonia Gandhi by the All India Congress Committee general secretary for Rajasthan Ajay Maken, and Mr. Kharge — that blamed Cabinet Minister Shanti Dhariwal; Minister and Congress Chief Whip in the Assembly, Mahesh Joshi; and MLA Dharmendra Rathore, for the causing a crisis.
However, efforts are on to de-escalate what is now a full blown crisis for the party. After a meeting at her 10, Janpath Road residence to finalise candidates for the Assembly polls in Himachal Pradesh, Ms. Gandhi discussed the issue of the Rajasthan crisis with senior Congress leaders like Ambika Soni and Anand Sharma.
Sources said Mr. Gehlot was also to speak with the Congress president to clarify his position but there was no confirmation if the conversation had taken place. The Hindu has learnt that the Rajasthan Chief Minister spoke with Mr. Sharma and Sunday’s events were discussed.
In a day of fast developments, former Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot’s arrival in Delhi led to speculation that he could soon meet the party’s top leadership.
The issue of change of guard in Rajathan and the Congress’ presidential elections are linked as the Gandhi family had informally endorsed Mr. Gehlot as the party’s main presidential candidate and had planned to appoint Mr. Pilot as his successor to head the State government. But the open rebellion by Rajasthan lawmakers loyal to Mr. Gehlot derailed the plan. Over 90 MLAs not only refused to back Mr. Pilot as the party’s Chief Ministerial choice but also refused to attend the official Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meet at Jaipur on Sunday evening. Instead, they gathered at the house of Mr. Dhariwal, the State Parliamentary Affairs Minister, and then went over to Assembly Speaker C.P. Joshi’s residence to hand over their resignation in protest against the proposed elevation of Mr. Pilot.
“Prima facie, the above charges are an act of grave indiscipline. Therefore, this show cause notice is being issued seeking your reply within 10 days as to why disciplinary action not be taken against you as per the provisions of the constitution of the Indian National Congress,” read the notice issued by general secretary Tariq Anwar, who is also a member of the party’s disciplinary committee.
Even before the notices were issued, several members of the Gehlot team, including Mr. Dhariwal and State Minister Pratap Singh Khachariyawas, said that they would abide by any decision of Ms. Gandhi’s.
However, several leaders close to Mr. Gehlot contradicted Mr. Maken’s claim that the CLP meeting’s venue and time was fixed at Mr. Gehlot’s behest.
“The Chief Minister was not consulted but informed that he should call a meeting of the CLP,” said a lawmaker from the Gehlot camp. He also argued that instead of ascertaining the views of the MLAs, the party’s central leadership had tried to “force” its views in favour of Mr. Pilot.
“Many of the MLAs felt that if they had gone for the CLP meet, then they would have been forced to agree to the directions of the central leadership. Mr. Gehlot is not someone who will directly oppose the Gandhi family but the MLAs have issues with those who tried to pull down the government,” a member of the Gehlot camp said.
Amid a sense of uncertainty and confusion over who would be the candidate that the Gandhis will back in the Congress presidential polls, the party is gearing up for the voting process. Chief of the party’s central election authority, Madhusudan Mistry, handed over a QR-coded identity card to Ms. Gandhi so that she can take part in the voting, if there is more than one candidate.
So far, only Lok Sabha member Shashi Tharoor and party treasurer Pawan Bansal have collected nomination forms for the October 17 elections. Mr. Bansal, however, clarified that he had collected the form for the Chandigarh Pradesh Congress Committee and not for himself.