The Congress disciplinary committee on Tuesday issued show-cause notices to three key loyalists of Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot — Shanti Dhariwal and Mahesh Joshi, and MLA Dharmendra Rathore — who organised a parallel meet of MLAs instead of joining a Congress Legislature Party meeting last weekend.
Former Madhya Pradesh chief minister and senior Congress leader Kamal Nath on Tuesday returned to Bhopal after spending barely hours in Delhi, avoiding mediation between rival factions in the Rajasthan Congress. Congress veteran AK Antony, who had announced his retirement from active politics, was asked to return to Delhi to help sort out the leadership issue. Party treasurer Pawan Bansal collected two sets of nomination papers “for someone else”. And Ashok Gehlot told confidants that he was ready to step down from the position of Rajasthan Chief Minister but “will not let the traitor become CM”, indicating he would accept anyone else as his replacement but not Sachin Pilot who mobilised Congress MLAs to cross over to the BJP in 2020.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi deputed senior leaders Ambika Soni and Anand Sharma to talk to Gehlot. “If things are not sorted out tonight (Tuesday night), the election process might have to pushed back,” said a former Congress Working Committee (CWC) member. September 30 is the deadline by which candidates have to file nominations.
Adding to the confusion, Pilot landed in Delhi though whether he had been summoned or he had come to the capital on his own was not clear. He had not been given time to meet the Congress president till the time of going to press.
The only firm candidate so far for the presidentship contest in the Congress is former union minister and Kerala MP Shashi Tharoor, who will likely file his papers with 30 members of the party seconding his nomination on Friday.
When asked for whom he had collected the forms and whether there was going to be a contest, Bansal said from Chandigarh: “I am returning to Delhi tonight. And I will not be going to Chandigarh for the next few days. So I have taken the forms and given them to Chandigarh Congress president Harmohinder Singh Lucky after signing as one of the proposers. I have taken it on behalf of the Chandigarh Congress president. Since the delegates can’t come to Delhi … they can sign the forms as supporters.”
A large number of names are doing the rounds: Kamal Nath (who has told supporters he wants to concentrate on Madhya Pradesh as Assembly elections are due in a few months), Mallikarjun Kharge (leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha who will have to give up his position if he decides to become president), and Mukul Wasnik. “The basic issue is: who will be a family loyalist,” said a member of the erstwhile ginger group in the party, the G23. “We will support Gehlot or Bhupinder Hooda (former Haryana chief minister). These are seasoned party leaders who have some record of winning elections for the Congress in the state. We don’t want someone who can’t win his own seat in aAssembly and Lok Sabha elections and wants to lead the party in elections.”