New Delhi: The magic moment for “magician’s son” Ashok Gehlot came on Friday when, after three days of hectic parleys and lobbying, Congress president Rahul Gandhi could finally declare his name as the chief minister of Rajasthan. State unit chief Sachin Pilot has agreed to be his deputy.
This will be Mr Gehlot’s third stint as the chief minister of Rajasthan. He served as CM from 1998 to 2003 and again from 2008 to 2013.
Addressing a press conference after his name was announced by Rajasthan Congress observer K.C. Venugopal, Mr Gehlot, 67, thanked Mr Gandhi and promised to provide, along with Mr Pilot, “good governance”.
There was a logjam on the decision till late Thursday night, even after Mr Gandhi had one-on-one meetings with Mr Gehlot and Mr Pilot thrice. Hectic discussions were held with top party leaders, including Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, on the selection of Rajasthan chief minister.
Mr Pilot was apparently not on board with Mr Gehlot being the chief minister, which delayed the announcement. Eventually, Mr Gandhi successfully brokered peace with the CM-deputy CM compromise formula.
“The united colours of Rajasthan,” Mr Gandhi tweeted on Friday afternoon along with a photograph in which the three leaders are standing together and smiling.
Mr Pilot, 41, exuded confidence that Congress’ good electoral performance will continue, saying the party will get a big mandate in 2019 polls and form government at the Centre also.
“Mera aur Ashok Gehlot ji ka jaadu puri tarah chal gaya hai (Gehlot and I worked our magic in the state),” Mr Pilot said.
In the state Assembly, Congress went from 21 seats against the BJP’s 163 in 2013 to getting 99 seats (plus one of the Rashtriya Lok Dal) in the state elections the votes for which were counted on Tuesday.
Mr Pilot said the party’s manifesto will be implemented immediately.
Mr Gehlot will be the 15th chief minister of Rajathan and the fourth leader to become chief minister of the state for a third time.
Mr Gehlot faced serious opposition from Jat leaders in the Congress in the race to the chief minister’s post in 1998 and 2008 as well. On both occasions, he overcame the opposition, but this time Mr Pilot gave him a tough time.
Mr Pilot’s supporters from Gujjar community held a series of protests blocking roads in Rajasthan on Thursday when it appeared that the announcement naming Mr Gehlot was imminent.
In December 2008, Jat leaders, like the then Union minister Sis Ram Ola, former Rajasthan Assembly Speaker Parasram Maderna and newly elected lawmaker Sonaram, had openly raised the demand for a Jat chief minister. Mr Gehlot is from the Mali community.
The then pradesh congress committee president C.P. Joshi, who later became Union minister after winning the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, also had chief ministerial aspirations. But he lost the 2008 Assembly election with a margin of just one vote, ruling himself out of the race
Amid protests by the Jat community, supporters of Mr Gehlot and Mr Ola clashed outside the guesthouse where AICC observers including Digvijay Singh were staying.
After intense consultations with Congress MLAs, the observers forwarded their report to the then party president, Sonia Gandhi, who cleared Mr Gehlot’s name for the post. Congress won 96 seats in 2008 and Mr Gehlot ran the government with the support of six Bahujan Samaj Party MLAs and a few Independents.
At a conjurors’ convention in 2015 — which he inaugurated by performing a little trick of his own — Gehlot said he would have followed in his father Lachman Singh’s footsteps had he not joined politics.
Mohan Lal Sukhadia was the chief minister of the state for four times, while Hari Deo Joshi and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat were three-time chief ministers in the state.
Both Mr Sukhadia and Mr Joshi were Congress leaders while Bhairon Singh Shekhawat was from BJP.