The various interpretations of the ongoing political drama in Rajasthan have not exhausted themselves.
Many of the political watchers favour the theory of the “failed coup” on the part of Sachin Pilot, the state’s former deputy chief minister and PCC president, and that chief minister Ashok Gehlot had saved the day for the Congress because he is supposedly the grassroots man who proved his worth by keeping the flock together, unlike Kamal Nath and Digvijay Singh in Madhya Pradesh and Siddharamaiah and D.K. Shivakumar in Karnataka. It is a very plausible theory.
In these three states, the BJP, where former party chief and Union home minister Amit Shah’s manipulative skills are in the forefront, was casting a long shadow.
The BJP and Mr Shah failed to call the shots correctly in Maharashtra, but got it right in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.
In Manipur, Mr Shah had to salvage the sinking ship of a BJP government. The intriguing question is the possible role played by the BJP in rocking the boat of the Ashok Gehlot government.
It should not be forgotten that the Congress and Mr Gehlot got all the members of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to cross over, which was as wily a thing to do as the BJP’s attempt to woo a disgruntled Sachin Pilot.
Mr Gehlot, after surviving the Pilot scare, might rightfully point an accusing finger at the BJP’s attempts to engineer defections from the Congress, but the BJP is not the real problem behind the Congress Party’s woes, not in Rajasthan, not in Madhya Pradesh, and not in Karnataka.
Most political pundits see the episode as the folly of an ambitious leader, Mr Pilot, who had miscalculated his own strength and who had overreached his own abilities as a party man.
But what goes unnoticed is the fact that Mr Gehlot was out to get the suave and relatively young Sachin Pilot because the latter was a thorn in Mr Gehlot’s side, and Mr Gehlot would have none of it. And Mr Pilot was not willing to play the role of a meek valet to Mr Gehlot.
There was nothing unusual in the clash between the two leaders. That is the stuff of day-to-day politics. The test of Mr Gehlot’s political maturity would have been in handling the ambitious Mr Pilot without letting him feel threatened by the incumbent CM.
But India’s political culture has changed over the last half century. Indira Gandhi did not want to be bothered by rivals in the ranks after proving herself the indispensable vote-catcher with a mass base. Many Congress leaders without the charisma of Indira Gandhi, however, want to be the undisputed leader in his or her own lair.
There is room only for one leader. It is the same culture that has been enacted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the BJP.
He does not brook any rivalry, and in the process others with the stature of a leader are firmly kept in their place. But if there are no leaders other than the top leader, then the government and the party are poorer for it.
In the Congress system, and the symptoms are evident in the BJP as well, there is not a team of leaders in their own right, who defer to the man or woman elected from among them as equals. There is only the leader, and the rest are mere followers.
Had there been a contest for the leadership immediately after the Aseembly elections in the Congress Legislature Party, and had Mr Gehlot edged out Mr Pilot in a fair contest, then Mr Pilot would have had no opportunity to nurse the grievance that he has been denied what was his due. And after winning the contest, Mr Gehlot could have displayed the goodwill of accommodating Mr Pilot in the Cabinet.
If the clash of wills between the two came in the way of smooth governance, Mr Gehlot could have rightfully dropped Mr Pilot from the Cabinet.
It cannot be the case that if you disagree with the party leader, you are an enemy of the party. It would have been more instructive and enlightening to know what the differences between Mr Gehlot and Mr Pilot were, and it would have been possible for the two to have honourable disagreements without Mr Gehlot and others in the Congress raising the pathetic cry of “traitor, who hobnobbed with the enemy” against Mr Pilot.
The feudalism that is prevalent in the Congress system is not confined to that party alone. It is the defining characteristic of India’s party politics. There is room only for a single leader, and everyone else will have to take their place below that of the leader on high.
India might be a vibrant mass democracy, but it has not evolved the sophisticated means of creating space for many leaders instead of just one, and the honourable way of settling the issue of the top leader who is first among equals. India lacks the democratic culture to do so.
There is nothing unusual about the clash between Mr Gehlot and Mr Pilot, but what is really wanting is a honourable and decent way of settling the claims of the two leaders.