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Congress’ Rajasthan headache: Maken quits as in-charge, writes to Kharge on leadership issue

Maken’s decision comes after Gehlot loyalists skipped a CLP meeting on 25 Sept called by the party high-command. The party, is however, yet to take a decision on the leaders who instigated this act.

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New Delhi: Congress general secretary, Ajay Maken, has resigned as in-charge of the party in Rajasthan, days after writing to party president Mallikarjun Kharge, saying he no longer wished to continue.

Sources close to Maken said the party leadership tried to convince him to take back his decision but were unsuccessful.

Maken’s letter to Kharge was seen as an attempt to put pressure on the party high-command to break the stalemate arising out of chief minister Ashok Gehlot’s refusal to make way for a younger leadership in the state.

Ahead of the party’s presidential election, the Gandhis were said to be inclined to replace Gehlot, who was tipped to become the next party president, with Sachin Pilot as Rajasthan CM. A Congress legislature party meeting was accordingly convened in Jaipur on 25 September. A large chunk of MLAs — loyal to Gehlot — skipped the meeting.

Maken and Kharge, who were appointed as senior observers for the meeting by Delhi, were kept waiting at the chief minister’s residence while over 90 of the party’s 107 MLAs held a parallel meeting at Gehlot loyalist Shanti Dhariwal’s home. All this happened in the presence of Mallikarjun Kharge who later went on to become the party’s national president.

The incident took place weeks before the Congress presidential polls, which elected Kharge as the new party chief.

In a one-page letter, Maken referred to this incident and said it was in the party’s interest to have a new in-charge.

He also said it was “imperative” to have a new in-charge as soon as possible since the party’s mega-walkathon, the Bharat Jodo Yatra, would enter the state in the first week of December. There is also a by-election on 4 December, he pointed out.

In the letter, Maken also said he would like to work in Delhi with trade unions and NGOs and focus on civic issues.

Maken believes a clear decision on the Rajasthan leadership should be taken firmly and soon after the 25 September episode, ThePrint has learnt.

Gehlot loyalists’ apparent rebellion that evening sprang from the belief that the Congress high-command wanted to replace the chief minister with his bete noir Sachin Pilot. At that time, Gehlot was the frontrunner for the party presidency, and if elected, would have had to quit the CM-ship due to the Congress’ “one man, one post” rule.

These leaders boycotted thinking the decision to replace Gehlot would be announced at the CLP meeting, sources said.

A factional feud between Gehlot and Sachin Pilot over the chief minister’s chair has been public since 2020.

Days after the 25 September incident, Gehlot took moral responsibility and pulled out of the race for Congress president, profusely apologising to then party president Sonia Gandhi.

He also said the CLP meeting was called to pass a standard one-line resolution authorising the Congress president to take a call on the state leadership. The party sought an immediate report from Kharge and Maken on those responsible for the incident, after which CLP leader and minister Shanti Dhariwal, minister and chief whip Mahesh Joshi and MLA Dharmendra Rathore were served showcause notices.

After Gehlot’s apology, party’s general secretary in-charge of organisation, K.C. Venugopal — who was present during Gehlot’s meeting with Sonia after the fiasco — said a decision on the Rajasthan leadership would be taken in “two to three days”.

Over a month and a half after the incident and almost 3 weeks since Kharge took charge as president, a decision is yet to be taken.

Sources said this bothered Maken as the showcaused MLAs were coordinating the Rahul Gandhi-led Yatra. A senior AICC functionary told ThePrint: “With what moral authority will Ajay Maken go to Rajasthan to organise Rahul Gandhi’s yatra if the same people who had made a mockery of the CLP meeting are coordinating it?”

Pilot was, till 12 November, engaged as an observer for the Himachal Pradesh polls, which concluded that day.

Gehlot, in the meanwhile, is busy with the party’s campaign, as senior observer, in Gujarat where polls will take place in the first week of December.

The looming crisis in Rajasthan

After Gehlot’s apology and Kharge’s appointment, the Congress high-command has avoided any mention of the Rajasthan incident or a change in leadership in the state.

In the state, however, a leadership crisis seems to be emerging with ministers and MLAs frequently having a go at each other.

After the showcause notices were served, Congress MLA from Osian Divya Maderna — who is the scion of the influential Jat political family, the Madernas — has constantly hit out at Joshi and Dhariwal for allegedly instigating the MLAs to break party discipline.

Similarly, Minister Rajendra Guda has accused Dhariwal of corruption and also hit out at him and Joshi for the 25 September incident.

Earlier this month, Guda also trained his guns at Gehlot saying all government appointments — from constable to DG — were made at the CM’s behest. Last week, Guda also spoke in favour of Pilot becoming the chief minister.

Guda had supported Pilot’s comments saying the high-command should take a decision on those responsible for the 25 September incident, hinting at Gehlot.

Meanwhile, Pilot continues to keep his guns trained at Gehlot. After Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised Gehlot at an event this month, Pilot likened him to former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad. Azad, who recently had an acrimonious exit from the party, was also praised by the PM last year.

Last week, former Rajasthan Minister Harish Chaudhary hit out at Gehlot over the CM’s stance on OBC reservations in the state, accusing him of not resolving it.


Also read: ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ will benefit Congress in days to come: Sachin Pilot


 

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