Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, India
Nov 26, 2018, 10.38 AM
There could be more than meets the eye in senior Congress leader from Rajasthan, CP Joshi’s remark that questioned the competence of backward castes in understanding Hinduism and asserted that only Brahmins knew about the religion.
The Assembly election is due in the state on December 7, and by most accounts, the Congress stands a good chance of displacing the Bharatiya Janata Party regime there. Why did Joshi then offer a comment that has the potential to antagonise the vast majority of voters who are outside the Brahmin fold? He has since expressed regret for his statement after his party chief Rahul Gandhi pulled him up, but the damage has been done.
On the surface, it may appear that Joshi was taking potshots at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other BJP leaders for speaking about Hindutva, when he said, “What is Uma Bharti’s caste? Does anyone know? What is the caste of (Sadhvi) Rithambara? Is it known? If anyone knows about religion in the country, it is the pundit, the vidwan, some say Brahmins… Sadhvi ji belongs to some religion, she talks about Hindu religion. Narendra Modi belongs to some religion, he talks about Hindu religion.” But even he must have known of the silliness of what he was speaking and realised the electoral damage it could cause to the party. Perhaps it’s precisely because of such a realisation that he shot his mouth off. Let’s understand how.
From all accounts, Ashok Gehlot is the frontrunner in the chief ministerial race in case the Congress wins in Rajasthan. The other aspirant, Sachin Pilot, may have party president Rahul Gandhi’s approval, but Gehlot is considered better placed, more so after the list of candidates the Congress has declared comprises a large number of his nominees — and the winners among them are certain to put their weight behind him when the time comes. Quite possibly, it’s not a situation that Joshi relishes, and he could be quite willing to torpedo the Congress’s chances in order to deny Gehlot the chief ministership. His comments were designed to anger the vast majority of voters who belong to the Other Backward Classes, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, as well as even upper castes such as the Rajputs.
One need not go too far back to understand the political rivalry between Gehlot and Joshi. The two leaders were at loggerheads during the 2013 Assembly election. Joshi was then a serious contender for the state’s chief ministership in case the Congress gained power. He was also considered close to Rahul Gandhi who had begun to tentatively explore the possibility of bringing in new (if not young) faces to the forefront. Gehlot, on the other hand, was more senior — indeed, he had once mentored Joshi — and seen to be in the Sonia Gandhi camp. The tussle between the two State leaders was, therefore, natural.
Joshi had become a Cabinet Minister in UPA-II, an elevation that was interpreted in political circles as a stamp of approval from Rahul Gandhi. The import was not lost on anyone: A first-time Member of Parliament had become a Cabinet Minister in the Union Government even as other more senior aspirants had to cool their heels. When Rahul Gandhi assumed greater responsibilities in the party, in fact becoming the de facto chief, Joshi quit the government and assumed organisational responsibilities — as a general secretary and a member of the All India Congress Committee. Despite this endorsement from the highest levels, he must have been dismayed by the fact that he had little role to play in the distribution of tickets in Rajasthan. That was to change soon.
Rahul Gandhi summoned Gehlot and Joshi for a meeting prior to the Assembly poll. A subtle message was sent with the exclusion of the then state party chief Chandrabhan — a known Gehlot acolyte — from the confabulation. But the reconciliation process went nowhere, with neither of the leaders agreeing to back down on their respective methods for choosing candidates.
Eventually, the tiff became one of the reasons for the Congress losing the election. However, over the last five years, while Gehlot has managed to stage a comeback within the party — even wriggling his way into the Rahul Gandhi camp — CP Joshi has not managed a similar feat. His acts of defiance targeted at Gehlot have also not yielded results, though there have been patches of success. Recall that Joshi had become the president of Rajasthan Cricket Association much against Gehlot’s wishes and designs. In various recent agitations and fire-fighting situations — when Rahul Gandhi led an agitation outside the CBI headquarters in Delhi recently, Gehlot was by his side; when government formation had to be done in Karnataka after a hung Assembly came into being, Rahul Gandhi despatched Gehlot to the State to sort matters out — Gehlot has been the chosen one.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)