Gehlot, who has obtained a high profile in the party's central organization, has been interested in competing with the traditional Sardarpura seat in Jodhpur and his fight is expected to be a boost to Congress. But the decision to also head the Pilot, a two-term lawmaker who will oppose his first council poll, reflects the party's strategic dilemma which has seen it maintain equality between veterans and younger leaders.
The announcement came even when a list of party candidates was expected to be announced on Thursday. "Regarding the instructions of Congress President Rahul Gandhi and at the request of Gehlotji, I have decided to take part in the assembly elections," Pilot said, minutes after Gehlot announced the two would oppose the election at a press conference here on Wednesday.
Continuous ambiguity over leadership has seen the BJP claim that Congress was blocked by factionalism and strategists have tried to use what they see as rival doubts in putting Gehlot in advance.
Although the Pilot does not disclose where he will compete, the possible choices may be seats in Dausa or Ajmer, the Lok Sabha constituents he represents, or in Kota or Bundi in southern Rajasthan. There is speculation that the final lottery may be between Ladpura in Kota and Masuda in Ajmer.
In 2014, Pilots competed for the election of Lok Sabha in Ajmer and lost to the BJP's Sanwar Lal Jat. He did not take part in general elections in Ajmer earlier this year. Compete with Gehlot, a party leader said, now putting the Pilot on par with the former CM, where both would be seen as equal competitors for top jobs.
Congress has not released a list of candidates in Rajasthan, and official announcements are likely after Thursday's party head election committee meeting. Party sources said with Gehlot and Pilots throwing their hats into the ring, senor party leader CP Joshi might also try to take part in the election. Joshi is a native of Nathdwara.
Who of the two will oppose elections and emerge as a prime minister candidate has been the subject of much speculation. Part of the party has felt that Gehlot's privileges can help because he seems to govern credibility with voters and is seen as an experienced hand in running the country.
However, Gehlot clarified that it had become a party tradition in Rajasthan to never announce candidates for CM in advance. "We have said repeatedly that whatever Rahul Gandhi decided on our chief minister will obey it. It is a tradition for the Congress in Rajasthan not to announce the CM before the election, "he said.
Gehlot also refused to be drawn into the debate about why the party announced the face of the CM in Punjab, but refrained from doing so at polls in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. "There might be an exception," he said.