AMID simmering factionalism in the ruling Congress in Rajasthan, AICC general secretary and Rajasthan in-charge Ajay Maken, who reached Jaipur on Saturday, held a meeting with office bearers, ministers and MLAs to discuss a possible Cabinet expansion.
“We are discussing the Cabinet expansion, (appointment of) district presidents of the Congress and appointments in boards and corporations. I want to say that everybody has said in one voice that they will abide by what the central high command decides,” Maken told reporters on Sunday after the meeting at the party office in Jaipur. “We will make the final decision on these matters very soon because now we can’t see any contradiction within the party and everyone is agreeing on this. We will let you know soon,” he added.
Maken, along with Congress General Secretary (Organisation) K C Venugopal had reached Jaipur Saturday night and held discussions with Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot that stretched late into the night. Party sources said the two leaders and the CM discussed the impending Cabinet expansion and the political appointments.
When asked about the possible timing of the Cabinet expansion, Maken said he doesn’t want to put a date to it. He said he would again visit Rajasthan on June 28-29 and hold individual discussions with party MLAs to decide on district and block office bearers of the party.
Focus shifts to Rajasthan
After Punjab, the Congress leadership has shifted its focus to Rajasthan, where demands for Cabinet expansion and key appointments have gained momentum amid reports of resentment in the Sachin Pilot camp. In recent times, Ajay Maken, the Congress in-charge for Rajasthan, has made several visits to Jaipur, signalling that the leadership wants to find a way ahead.
The Cabinet expansion, along with important political appointments in Rajasthan, have been pending for more than a year because of the tussle between the factions loyal to Gehlot and Sachin Pilot.
Ever since Pilot was removed from his posts of deputy chief minister and state party president last year, the Rajasthan unit of the Congress has been functioning without any district office bearers or presidents.
Halfway into the Gehlot government’s tenure, posts in several boards and commissions have been lying vacant and crucial ministries such as Tourism and PWD are without a full-time minister — a result of the tussle between the Pilot and Gehlot factions, with both wanting a majority of posts for their loyalists.
Last month, MLAs from the Pilot camp said the party should fulfil the promises made to Pilot last month, following which the demand for Cabinet expansion and political appointments gained momentum.
Pilot, who last year had taken off with 18 of his loyalist MLAs and camped in Delhi and Haryana for over a month, was present at Sunday’s meeting.
A number of his supporters gathered outside the party office and raised slogans in his support as Maken and Venugopal held discussions inside.
“The two leaders didn’t speak much on Cabinet expansion and largely interacted with MLAs informally. We are hopeful that the Cabinet expansion will not take too long now,” said an MLA present at the meeting.
At present, nine positions are vacant in the Council of ministers, with the Pilot faction claiming most of them. Independent MLAs supporting the government and the six legislators who switched from the BSP to the Congress are also in the race for ministerial berths.