A DAY after around 90 MLAs loyal to Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot skipped the Congress Legislature Party meeting, submitted their resignation to Speaker CP Joshi, and pushed the state once again into a political crisis, the supporters of the three-time CM remained confident and showed little sign of unease.
“If we are asked for a clarification by the Congress high command in writing or orally, or we are sent any notice, then we will clarify our position. We believe that we haven’t done anything that amounts to indiscipline and there can be no doubt over our dedication towards the party and high command,” Congress chief whip and cabinet minister Mahesh Joshi told reporters on Monday.
He said the Congress MLAs indeed communicated to Ajay Maken and Mallikarjun Kharge that nobody among those who rebelled in 2020 should become the CM.
Maintaining a studied silence, the Sachin Pilot camp continues to hope he would be made the CM. MLAs close to him have been avoiding airing their views in public since it might jeopardise his chances.
Pilot camp sources, however, questioned the claim that over 90 MLAs submitted their resignation. “How many MLAs can fit in a bus? There was just one bus that went to submit resignation to C P Joshi and some others came in their own vehicles. The figure ranges from 72-92, but has anyone shared a list so far? The figure of 92 MLAs (in Gehlot camp) is kite-flying. Around 30-35 MLAs were at CM residence, and many MLAs (at Dhariwal residence) didn’t sign the resignation letters,” sources said.
The near rebellion by the Gehlot camp comes at a time when the party, reeling from electoral losses and desertions, is looking at ways to revive its fortunes. That the leadership is no longer what it used to be appears to have encouraged the show of defiance.
Meanwhile, state Parliamentary Affairs Minister Shanti Dhariwal, who had hosted the Gehlot faction Congress MLAs at his residence on Sunday spoke for the first time, saying the resignation of MLAs was result of “resentment and anger”.
“The MLAs asked why should just a one-line resolution be passed (in the CLP). We said our voices should be heard. The 102 MLAs who had saved the Congress (during the 2020 political crisis) feared the CM’s chair would go to someone who had stabbed the Congress in its back; 92 people have resigned,” said Dhariwal, while speaking to reporters.
Joshi and Dhariwal are among the MLAs closest to Gehlot, and were instrumental in gathering the MLAs at Dhariwal’s house ahead of the CLP meeting.
Later Sunday night, the duo was among a delegation of the MLAs who met Maken and Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, to lay out pre-conditions including not making Sachin Pilot or any of his supporters the chief minister.
Cabinet Minister Pratap Singh Khachariyawas went a step ahead and said the BJP is once again trying to topple the Congress government in Rajasthan. “BJP is trying to conspire to topple the government and if MLAs are meeting to save (us) from the conspiracy, their voices should be heard,” Khachariyawas said Monday.
Although quiet, Pilot camp cited the examples of Bagru MLA Ganga Devi and Indra Meena from Bamanwas to say that some MLAs were kept in the dark and resignations were taken from them even though they had not agreed for the same.
Talking to journalists, Indra Meena said on Monday, “in the afternoon, we got a call that we have to visit Dhariwal ji’s home. I said that I will be late and will reach CM residence (directly) by around 7.30 pm. I didn’t go to Dhariwalji’s residence…I could not understand who was calling where. After that we were told to reach C P Joshi’s residence. We reached there, while some MLAs reached the CM residence.”
Asked whether she submitted her resignation, she said that, We were being asked to sign a paper. I did not read the paper…I have no objection to Sachin Pilot. We are Congress MLAs. We are in support of the high command. Whatever the high command decides, it is fine by us. If the high command asks us to withdraw our resignation, we will withdraw.”
Ganga Devi said that “I went late. I am with the party, Sonia ji, Rahul ji, and whatever the party high command decides, I am with them.” She said she doesn’t know if her resignation letter was signed but said that she did not hand over her resignation letter.
“We were called directly (to Dhariwal’s residence), and then we didn’t go there (to CM residence) so obviously they (the observers) had to become angry. When the high command had sent them…we are not bigger than them. We should have been with them. We were supposed to meet them but things took such a turn that we could not meet them,” she said.
“Now the MLAs are coming out and speaking up. Earlier they were scared of repercussions but now that it seems that Gehlot won’t become the party president after all, they are speaking openly” a source in the Pilot camp said.
Sources also accused Gehlot of stalling the CLP meet – when Gehlot went to meet Kharge and Maken – so that the numbers at Dhariwal’s residence could swell. They also claimed that around a dozen MLAs who showed up at CM residence were turned away and asked to go to Dhariwal’s residence instead.
Minister of State Rajendra Gudha termed the developments at Dhariwal residence a “drama.” He said when it became clear that Gehlot is going to Delhi, “There is no better candidate than Pilot for Rajashthan’s development. If he is made the CM today, then we will once again form the government next year.”
“There is a craze for Sachin Pilot among the youth. The previous government was formed due to his efforts,” said Gudha. He also said had the observers met the MLAs individually “90 per cent MLAs will prefer Sachin Pilot”.
Gudha also questioned the Gehlot camp’s pre-condition that none from the Pilot camp be made the CM. “But Ramesh Meena, Murari Lal Meena, Hemaram Choudhary, Brijendra Ola, and Vishvendra Singh were also not among the 102 MLAs (who were with Gehlot during the 2020 crisis). So, when these five can be made ministers, why can’t Pilot be made the CM?”
SC Commission Chairman and MLA Khiladi Lal Bairwa, who was among those who met Pilot at his residence on Monday, said that, “We are with the high command. We have kept him (Gehlot) for 35 years.”
Some other MLAs, such as Prashant Bairwa, want the party to take both Gehlot and Pilot along. He said that while “Gehlot is an encyclopaedia of politics, Sachin Pilot is the future.” On Gehlot camp objecting to Pilot’s name citing the 2020 rebellion, he said that, “If someone makes a mistake or comes home late, you don’t stop them from entering…”