A big political twist in chaotic Congress: Why Ashok Gehlot decided to stay away from presidential race?

In the midst of serious chaos, the political climate in the Congress party is taking shocking twists and turns with the backdrop of the party's presidential polls. The election announcement has triggered a big race between the senior leaders as the Gandhis are stubborn in their stand that they won't be at a direct command. The party is currently in the election process and the last date for filing the nomination is September 30. 

However, no leader has filed their nominations and the race has now taken a big turn after Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who remained a top contender for the top job, has finally decided to relinquish the race to succeed Sonia Gandhi. Gehlot has complete backing from the Gandhis and while it was expected that he will get unopposed, the prospect of voting was sparked by Congress MP and senior leader Shashi Tharoor. 

Tharoor has got the nomination papers and all eyes were on the race between Gehlot and Tharoor. However, Gehlot's interest in the apex role was met with a political crisis in his home state as the Rajasthan Congress party has been facing turmoil over electing Gehlot's successor as the Chief Minister after he moves to the national role. Initially, Gehlot was aiming to retain his Chief Ministerial post by serving as the acting national president of Congress. 

Under the party's policy of one person one role, Gehlot would step down as the Chief Minister had he become the next chief of the party. Besides bracing up the fact that Gehlot would be resigning as the Chief Minister, what irked the loyalists of Gehlot more is the party's plan to appoint Rajasthan's former Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot. A major number of Congress MLAs threatened to resign if Pilot was made the Chief Minister as they reminisce Pilot's plot to topple the Gehlot government in 2020.

As the turmoil has triggered a political crisis in Rajasthan, the legislators who support Gehlot have been dissenting against the Congress leadership and the recent meeting of MLAs, that held by skipping the Congress Legislature Party meeting, has become an apparent testament that trouble has been brewing for the party in the state. The Gehlot supporters had defied the central observers and held a meeting separately on Sunday to showcase their dissent. 

As the political crisis deepened in Rajasthan, Gehlot has come to the decision not to run for the Congress president post with the view of keeping his power in Rajasthan even as the BJP observes a 'wait and watch' game in the state. On Thursday - September 29, a day ahead of the deadline for filing nominations, Ashok Gehlot announced that he will not contest the Congress presidential polls. 

According to PTI, Gehlot has taken moral responsibility for the political crisis in Rajasthan and said that the decision on whether he would remain Chief Minister would be taken by party chief Sonia Gandhi. After meeting Sonia Gandhi on Thursday in New Delhi, Gehlot told the reporters that he apologized to Gandhi for the political developments that happened in Rajasthan on Sunday.

He said, "In the last 50 years, I have worked as a loyal Congress soldier from the time of Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao, and Sonia Ji, be it becoming a central minister or state unit chief, general secretary or Chief Minister for the third time, I cannot forget that. The events that happened on Sunday have shaken all of us. Only I know how hurt I am because a message went that I want to remain CM." He said Sonia Gandhi will decide whether he will continue as the Chief Minister. 

As Ashok Gehlot is out of the contest, the race is now between Shashi Tharoor and former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh. Both the leaders are expected to file their nominations on Friday and on Thursday, they met each other where Tharoor said they agreed that theirs is 'not a battle between rivals but a friendly contest among colleagues'. Tharoor further said, "All we both want is that whoever prevails @incIndia will win!." 

The political observers say Gehlot's decision to stay away from the race would help ease the crisis in Rajasthan. However, he is yet to get a nod from the Gandhis on continuing his post as the Chief Minister as the events that unfolded in Jaipur on Sunday against the party's leadership have put the Gandhis upset. The leadership believes that the loyalists of Gehlot --over 90 MLAs couldn't have launched rebellion without the knowledge and approval of Gehlot, who is unlikely to relent or accept the party's decision to appoint Sachin Pilot as his successor.

Congress general secretary KC Venugopal on Thursday said that party chief Sonia Gandhi will decide on whether Gehlot will continue as Rajasthan Chief Minister in two days. While the filing of the nominations ends on Friday - September 30, the last date for withdrawing nominations is October 8. The polling for Congress's president post will be held on October 17 and the result will be announced on October 19.