The long due Rajasthan cabinet reshuffle has been announced sixteen months after the public fallout between Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and his former deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot. The keenness of the Congress high command to broker peace between the two warring factions becomes apparent from the names of the new faces of the Rajasthan council of ministers.
Out of the 15 newly-announced names, five among the eighteen are loyalists of Sachin Pilot, who stood with him during the month-long political crisis that engulfed the state in July 2020.
The names of Pilot loyalist legislators Hemaram Choudhary, Vishvendra Singh, Ramesh Meena, Brijendra Singh Ola and Murari Lal Meena figure in the list. While Ola and Murari Lal have been made state ministers, the other three will be cabinet ministers. After many rounds of discussions between the two camps with congress leadership, the status quo which was in place a year is back once again; so-much-so that the two ministers, Vishvendra Singh and Ramesh Meena who were shown the door by the party after the former deputy's rebellion have now been once again reinducted in the state cabinet.
Also, a six-time MLA Hemaram Choudhary, another Pilot loyalist who had resigned from the Assembly earlier this year, has also been included as a cabinet minister. However, his resignation was yet to be accepted.
Cabinet reshuffle has sent across a good message: Pilot
"A good message has gone through the reshuffle. Members from all communities have been included including ST-SC communities. The share of women has also increased. The reshuffle has the reflection of Priyanka Gandhi's policy", Sachin Pilot said on Sunday morning at a presser at his residence at 11 Civil Lines in Jaipur
With the newly inducted 15 ministers to the existing pool, the Rajasthan will now have 30 members in its council of ministers including Chief Minister Gehlot, the maximum it can have. Earlier it had 21 members in the council of ministers, including the chief minister. The Rajasthan Cabinet had nine vacancies but filling them was a tight rope walk for the party leadership.
July last year witnessed some fearing political rhetoric with Gehlot even going to the extent of calling Sachin Pilot 'nakara and nikamma' by the CM. A month-long tussle between Gehlot and Pilot may have officially ended on the eve of Independence Day on August 2020 when inside the Assembly the former displayed his strength by winning the confidence motion via voice vote, but confusion over the entire episode percolates down across the organisational structure of Congress in Rajasthan.
On July 14, 2020, Sachin Pilot was removed as the deputy chief minister of Rajasthan and from his position as the state unit chief and party spokesperson, and two of his loyalist cabinet ministers Vishvendra Singh who held the portfolio of tourism minister and Ramesh Meena, food and supplies minister in Gehlot's cabinet were sacked from their posts in the state government. Pilot, who was the longest-serving president of the party unit in the state, was sacked by the party after he skipped the second round of meetings convened by Congress to discuss the political crisis in the state. The party immediately appointed former primary education minister Govind Singh Dotasara as the new Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee president.
In July this year, after the Punjab story, the MLAs from Congress and its allies in Rajasthan started becoming hopeful. Senior Congress leaders, including the general secretary in charge of Congress in Rajasthan Ajay Maken, started holding discussions for filling up the vacancies in the state cabinet to adjust all sections. The MLAs had repeatedly demanded the expansion and highlighted that some departments are completely dependent on government officials, and have become dysfunctional in absence of a minister. But unlike Punjab, in Rajasthan, things moved on a slower pace and the stalemate in the party's state unit continued for sixteen months owing to the political tussle between the two leaders Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot.
The announcement of cabinet reshuffle followed by the release of a list of ministers comes a week after Congress president Sonia Gandhi held separate meetings with Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot. Both leaders sounded confident and said that a decision on the long-pending cabinet expansion and political appointments would be taken soon.
Reshuffle with an eye on assembly polls
The 15 new names in the Rajasthan council of ministers — 11 to be inducted as cabinet ministers and four as ministers of state will swear-in today will be Hemaram Choudhary, Mahendra Jeet Singh Malviya, Ramlal Jat, Mahesh Joshi, Vishvendra Singh, Ramesh Meena, Mamta Bhupesh Bairwa, Bhajanlal Jatav, Tikaram Jully, Govind Ram Meghwal and Shakuntala Rawat. Of the new faces, Mamta Bhupesh Bairwa, Bhajanlal Jatav and Tikaram Jully were earlier state ministers who have now been elevated to cabinet rank.
The four state ministers are Zahida, Brijendra Singh Ola, Rajendra Singh Gudha and Murari Lal Meena. Gudha who is a turncoat BSP MLA is a close aide of Ashok Gehlot.
Besides ensuring the truce within the two factions, the reshuffle clearly is done with an eye on Assembly elections just two years away. Gehlot has managed to include members of all communities in the cabinet. The new Rajasthan cabinet will have four Scheduled Caste (SC) members for the first time, three ministers from the Scheduled Tribe (ST) community and the cabinet will also have three women—a Muslim, one from the SC community and a Gujjar community.
While the four names among the newly-made ministers are from the influential Jat community, Gehlot has also managed to woo the Gujjar community, to which Pilot belongs. MLA Shakuntala Rawat, who has been made a cabinet minister, is a Gujjar. Another Gujjar leader Ashok Chandna was already a MOS. Similarly, former MP Govind Ram Meghwal, another SC member, is a fresh face to be included in the refurbished cabinet.
Interestingly while Gehlot has managed to satisfy all communities, he has ignored the independent candidates. “It has been a tough job for Gehlot to accommodate everyone. But around seven MLAs may be inducted as Advisors to the CM and 15 others will be made Parliamentary Secretaries. So the independents have the chance to get accommodated there”, a senior Congress leader close to Ashok Gehlot told Outlook.
The existing ministers in Gehlot's cabinet will stay there. The resignations of only ministers Raghu Sharma, Govind Singh Dotasra and Harish Chaudhary have been accepted. All three will be working closely with the party affairs. While Dotasara is the Congress chief in Rajasthan, Sharma was made in charge of Gujarat in October 2021 and Harish Choudhry is in-charge of Punjab ahead of the crucial elections.
In the Assembly of 200, the ruling Congress has 108 MLAs including six former BSP MLAs who later joined Congress, BJP has71, Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) three, CPI(M) and Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) two each and the Rashtriya Lok Dal one. Thirteen are independent legislators.