Hours before Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Thursday reiterated that the party’s one person-one-post commitment was expected to be maintained for the presidential polls, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot told The Indian Express that the principle laid down in the Congress’s Udaipur Declaration was meant for nominated posts and not elections. However, he added that a leader who gets elected “will not be able to justify the Congress presidency” if he or she holds two posts. Excerpts:
You met Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday. She, I believe, told you that nobody from the Gandhi family would contest the Congress presidential election this time and the family would remain neutral.
You are right. She has been saying that. She said ‘we want to remain neutral’, that nobody from the Gandhi family will contest. Aur non-Gandhi ki baat hai toh phir achha rahega ki jo bhi maidan main utarna chahe utar jaaye (those who want to contest the election should enter the fray). It is good for inner-party democracy. We also discussed national politics, Rahul Gandhi, (Bharat Jodo) Yatra, and Congress presidential elections … she wants to be neutral. They will also not sign as proposers in the nomination papers of any candidate. I met her because I wanted to take her blessings.
So it has become very clear that Rahul Gandhi is not contesting for the post of Congress president. Jairam Ramesh said so in as many words on Wednesday.
It has come to my knowledge that he (Jairam) has said that. Even then I have been demanding that Rahul Gandhi should become Congress president. In Rajasthan, it was I who first raised this demand. I think it is still my responsibility to talk to him one last time.
So you will enter the fray and file the nomination paper since Rahul is not in the race?
If he doesn’t agree, phir toh form bharenge (I will have to file the nomination form). When there is a mood in my favour in the state and in the country, I will have to file the nomination, respecting and honouring the sentiments of everybody.
Digvijaya Singh said on Wednesday that you cannot hold two posts.
There are two things. In my view, I am not saying it for myself, this is an election for the post of Congress president. The two-posts issue cannot come up in an election. Anybody can contest in an election. Any state minister, who is a delegate, can also contest. It is not necessary that he resign first. But the person who becomes the Congress president, his area is the entire country. So, it has never happened before … in history, there has never been a case when a person is both the Congress president and the chief minister of a state. That person will not be able to justify the Congress presidency. So, from that point of view, it is natural that woh Congress president rahke kaam kare (the person chosen helm only the party), even though the two-posts issue may not apply in this case. It is also important for us to win the Assembly elections in Rajasthan. Tabhi Congress ka revival shuru hoga (Then only the Congress’s revival will begin). So, I would also like that if I become Congress president then how should we work to win in Rajasthan? So, Digvijaya Singh or whoever says these things… I think their sentiments should be the same as mine. There can be different ways of saying it. He made Udaipur Declaration the basis … I believe Udaipur Declaration is for two nominated posts. This is an election. Had this post also been nominated, then the two posts issue would be relevant … that how can you be nominated for two posts?
So you believe that you should continue as Rajasthan Chief Minister till the elections even after you become the Congress president, that you have to make the party win as a chief minister.
It is not necessary that I stay on as chief minister till the elections, remain for a month or six months, or not stay at all. Yeh depend karge ki hamari exercise wahan kis prakar se hai (how things unfold in Rajasthan). What is the view of the MLAs? How should we go about it? So that there is unity in the party. After the crisis we underwent there, we would like everybody to move forward unitedly.
The biggest challenge before us is to strengthen the Congress and move forward unitedly, given the situation in the country. So, it is necessary that the high command conducts its exercise there … ki bhai sab ki rai kya banti hai, kya nahin banti hain (what everyone else is thinking) … and decide based on that. So, that when we hit the ground we are united. I want to add that party has given me everything. I have been holding various posts for the last 40-50 years. Posts and positions are not important to me anymore. Fulling the responsibilities given to me and strengthening the party are more important. When the party has given you everything and when the same party is facing a difficult time, you cannot sit back. It is time to revive and strengthen the party and emerge as a strong Opposition.
What will be your roadmap to revive the Congress so that the party emerges victorious in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections?
Let’s talk about all this after the elections.
There is an indication that there could be more than two candidates. The names of Manish Tewari and Digvijaya Singh are doing the rounds.
I think nobody should have a problem. The aim of everybody is to do politics based on the Congress’s programme, policy and ideology. The Constitution is in under attack today. Questions are being raised on democracy. At such a time, we would like everyone — I mean all those who want to contest and those who do contest — to work together because the challenge before us is to provide a strong Opposition. And the Congress succeeds in playing the role of a strong national Opposition … So, after elections, which is important for inner-party democracy, we will all sit and work together.
What organisational changes should be made in the Congress?
Once the elections are over, the CWC (Congress Working Committee) will be constituted … then everybody will give their suggestions and views and something will emerge. It would be better to talk about such things then.