The ‘fight’ between the Governor and the Chief Minister of Rajasthan does not seem to be abating any time soon.
News reports suggest that Rajasthan Governor Kalraj Mishra has sought a second round of clarifications from state chief minister Ashok Gehlot over the latter’s request for convening the Assembly session while giving ‘in-principle approval’.
The Governor has asked three specific questions:
Will a floor test be conducted?
How will MLAs reach the Assembly within such a short period of time, given the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions? Governor has suggested 21-day notice.
How will social distancing be maintained?
The Gehlot government was yet to formally respond at the time of writing this article. However, Congress party spokespersons have hit back at the Governor saying that it is the Speaker who decides the agenda of the House. They have accused the Governor of ‘acting at the behest of the central government’.
Meanwhile, the Rajasthan Speaker has withdrawn his petition in the Supreme Court challenging the High Court decision of status quo in the matter of disqualification of rebel MLAs. The Rajasthan High Court has also dismissed BJP MLA’s plea against Congress-BSP MLAs merger in the state.
Gehlot’s claims and Governor’s dilly-dallying in convening the Assembly indicate that the chief minister might enjoy the support of the House currently. The Pilot camp doesn’t have the numbers to push for Gehlot’s downfall at the moment.
However, the countdown for Gehlot has started; he may not be able to survive for long. The seeds of discontent in the Congress have been sown. The change of guard is now inevitable.
Why do I say so? Here’s why:
1. Body language and bhasha of Gehlot
Gehlot clearly appears perturbed at the turn of events. In his long political career, this is one of his biggest challenges and that too being posed by a young Sachin Pilot.
He used words like nikamma and nakara for Pilot. Such foul language is used by a person who feels that the end of his tenure might be imminent. Gehlot also ‘threatened’ the Governor a few days ago, saying that if hundreds of people gherao Raj Bhavan, the Congress government would not be held responsible. Gehlot is having many anxious moments and seems jittery about his prospects.
2. Gehlot enjoys wafer thin majority, dependence on Independents will hurt
Gehlot claims he has the support of 102 MLAs, which is just 1 more than the magical figure of 101.
Ten MLAs supporting him are Independents, accounting for 10% of his government’s strength. Experience says that Independents cannot be relied upon as they can switch sides easily.
In Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress government fell in March, the two Independents supporting Kamal Nath are now backing Shivraj Singh Chouhan. None of the Independents is a minister in the Gehlot government and can be lured with such positions.
3. Disqualification threat still hangs upon BSP MLAs
Six Bahujan Samaj Party MLAs merged with the Congress taking its tally to 107 in the Assembly. Gehlot had used a similar tactic in 2008 as well when he fell short of majority, poaching the 6 BSP MLAs.
Irked by this, Mayawati has filed a petition before the Speaker, to disqualify the 6 MLAs. She has argued that since BSP is a national party, state units cannot decide on mergers.
The party has also issued a whip to all its MLAs asking them to vote against the Gehlot government in case of a trust vote.
In the same breath, the BSP has demanded President’s Rule in Rajasthan. The Bharatiya Janata Party is likely to file a fresh petition challenging the Congress-BSP merger in Rajasthan. If these 6 MLAs are disqualified before trust vote, Gehlot government will be reduced to a minority.
4. Sachin camp hasn’t been disqualified and would vote against the motion
Meanwhile, rebel Congress leader Sachin Pilot has managed to get a stay on the disqualification proceedings initiated against him and his supporters by the Rajasthan Speaker.
The plea against the order in Supreme Court has also been withdrawn by the Speaker. This means that Sachin camp cannot be stopped from voting in the Assembly.
Although the Congress will issue a whip to all its MLAs (Sachin camp included), the rebels may not follow the whip and might vote against the Gehlot government.
These votes will need to be counted. Disqualification proceedings, if any, would proceed only after the trust vote.
5. BJP is now active looking for a result like that in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh
The BJP, which was acting as mute spectator till now, has become active. Party sympathiser lawyers Mukul Rohtagi and Harish Salve represented Sachin camp in High Court. Its MLA Madan Dilawar filed a case in High Court against the Congress-BSP merger in the state. The Haryana Police prevented Special Operations Group from Rajasthan to enter hotel where rebels were camped.
The party sees a chance to make a comeback in the state. The infighting of Congress similar to Karnataka and MP provides a ray of hope to party. We have seen in other states like Goa and Manipur how it has crushed opposition to form government. It is likely to exploit the vulnerabilities and inherent contradictions of the grand old party.
6. The Jat factor
The Jats, who account for 9 percent of state population play an important role in Rajasthan politics. As many as 37 out of 200 MLAs belong to the Jat community (up from 31 in the previous Assembly). The Jats who were Congress supporters have moved away from the party after it made Ashok Gehlot (Mali community) the chief minister in 1998 and 2008. They returned to Congress fold in 2018.
The Jats are itching to take revenge from Gehlot as they hold him responsible for the political death of farmer leader and popular face Parsaram Maderna. Nobody can be sure of how Jat MLAs of the Congress will vote in a trust vote. Both rival camps have tall Jat leaders in their fold.
To sum up, magician Gehlot is clearly facing the heat. The state seems to be getting ready for new leadership apart from Gehlot and Vasundhara. All options, including President’s Rule or propping a Pilot-led government with outside support, are available to the BJP.
Gehlot needs a miracle to save his government. Even if he survives this crisis, he may not be able to complete full term as chief minister of Rajasthan.