Moving to snuff out a rebellion led by rival and Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot staged a show of strength Monday and got the party to pass a resolution which, apart from targeting the BJP for attempting to destabilise his government, called for “strict disciplinary action” against Congress members involved in “anti-government or anti-party activities”.
The Rajasthan Congress Legislature Party met at the Chief Minister’s official residence where Congress central leaders Avinash Pande, Randeep Singh Surjewala and Ajay Maken were among those present.
As Pilot and his loyalists skipped the CLP meeting, the Gehlot camp claimed support of 106 MLAs — five more than the majority mark of 101 — and said there was no threat to the government. After the meeting, the MLAs were taken to Hotel Fairmont which was searched earlier in the day by a central agency.
Rajasthan Government Crisis LIVE: Another CLP meet at 10 am tomorrow, Cong requests Pilot, rebel MLAs to join
Gehlot paraded MLAs ahead of the CLP meeting, but sources said some who backed the CM are keeping options open.
MLAs Rohit Bohra, Danish Abrar, Chetan Dudi, Prashant Bairwa are known to be close to Pilot.
“Pilot is still our Deputy CM and state Congress chief. He has not said anything officially,” Abrar told reporters. Asked about his proximity to Pilot, he said, “Should there be distances? Is everything political?”
MLA Deependra Singh, a Pilot loyalist, said people sometimes have to do things “under pressure” but “their heart is elsewhere.” He sought a floor test “at the earliest” to make things clear and reiterated that he and others were not joining the BJP.
Ladnun MLA Mukesh Bhakar said “allegiance to Congress means slavery to Ashok Gehlot, which isn’t acceptable to us.”
Food and Civil Supplies Minister Ramesh Meena too openly expressed support for Pilot while Tourism Minister Vishvendra Singh kept distance from the Gehlot camp and skipped the CLP meeting.
Singh, however, claimed he was in Delhi to tend to an ailing family member. “Whatever my decision, it will be in the interest of the people who have elected me,” he said. He later tweeted old photos of Pilot.
Bharatiya Tribal Party president Maheshbhai Vasava issued a whip, asking his two party MLAs who have been supporting the Chief Minister not to support Gehlot, Pilot or the BJP.
Vasava warned of disciplinary action should the whip be ignored. The Gehlot camp, however, claimed that the two MLA will continue to support the government.
The CLP meeting adopted a resolution slamming the BJP for plotting the “prajatantra ka cheerharan” (the stripping of democracy) which was “an insult to the mandate of 8 crore citizens of Rajasthan, and will never be accepted” by the people.
Expressing “complete faith and confidence in the leadership of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and our leader Rahul Gandhi”, the CLP condemned attempts to weaken the state government and sought “strict disciplinary action” against any party official or CLP member for indulging in “anti-government or any-party activities, directly or indirectly”.
AICC spokesperson Surjewala struck a conciliatory tone when he told reporters: “If there are any differences, then all doors of the Congress party and the high command are open for Sachin Pilot and all MLA colleagues, they always were and will always be. Come, let us sit down and have a discussion. If there is any issue, we will find a solution under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.”
He said in the last 48 hours, the Congress leadership had several discussions with Pilot. He declined to go into details, saying such discussions are held inside the party forum, not outside.
He told the MLAs “that the Congress government has been elected to serve the people of Rajasthan. Individual contests can be justified but Rajasthan is bigger than that. I do agree that sometimes there may be ideological differences which are natural in a democratic set-up. But is it appropriate to weaken the elected government of your own party and give the BJP an opportunity to indulge in horse trading due to ideological differences? It is not justified,” he said, adding that the party’s central leadership is “keeping an open mind.”
Some Congress MLAs claimed that BJP was still trying to lure them away; MLA Rajendra Gudha claimed he was offered money on Sunday night. “They have been given keys to the Reserve Bank of India – take any sum (you wish) but come over,” he said.
Transport Minister Pratap Singh Khachariyawas, who is considered close to Pilot but attended the CLP meeting, said “be it Sachin Pilot or any MLA, do not be influenced by (PM Narendra) Modi and (Home Minister) Amit Shah. Money is not everything, self-respect and bravery (matter more)”.
He said the other camp did not have the numbers “hence the I-T raids are being conducted”.
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