EVEN AS Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot Wednesday made a frontal attack on Sachin Pilot, who has been removed as deputy CM and state party president, the party’s central leadership is keeping its doors open for him. Pilot reiterated again on Wednesday that he is not joining the BJP.
In his first such remarks against Pilot, without mentioning him by name, Gehlot said the former deputy CM was “involved” in the BJP’s “conspiracy” to topple his government and claimed proof of “horse-trading” by him. He also said Pilot had risen in the party ranks without the kind of work leaders of his generation had put in.
Late on Tuesday night, Congress chief whip Mahesh Joshi approached Speaker C P Joshi to disqualify Pilot and the 18 MLAs who have stayed away from party meetings and are believed to be siding with him.
Significantly, Gehlot’s attack on Pilot came hours after AICC in-charge of Rajasthan Avinash Pande said Congress doors were open for Pilot. After Gehlot’s statement, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala reiterated this, adding that Pilot was welcome back provided he left “the Haryana BJP government’s hospitality (MLAs backing Pilot are staying in hotels in Haryana)”.
Congress sources claimed the party had learnt that Pilot had a meeting on Wednesday with a BJP leader who had played a key role in the defection of Congress MLAs in Madhya Pradesh. A senior Congress leader also said the party is in touch with a couple of MLAs in the Pilot camp and that two-three of them could switch back.
The contrast between Gehlot and Surjewala’s remarks was stark. In fact, sources said, Surjewala, who is part of the central team sent by the Congress to Jaipur to handle the crisis, had a meeting with Gehlot after he attacked Pilot. It was conveyed to him that Rahul Gandhi wants to keep the doors open for Pilot. Sources said Gehlot told Surjewala he was not against that but Pilot would have to “leave the BJP camp”.
Sources in Delhi said both Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra are keen to accommodate Pilot, and that Ahmed Patel was talking to him. Asked whether there was a chance of Pilot getting his posts back, a senior leader pointed to Gehlot’s harsh words: “It is clear why he said that suddenly… Maybe Rahul will take him out of Rajasthan.”
Addressing mediapersons, Gehlot referred to the recent Rajya Sabha elections, where he had claimed bid at horse-trading, which was denied by Pilot. “Hamare yahan par deputy CM ho, PCC president ho, woh khud hi deal kar le logon se, ‘mobile number dijiye hamein, naam dijiye hamein’, shadyantra mein shaamil ho. Woh safai de rahe the… Arre tum toh khud hi shadyantra main shamil the (Here, the deputy CM, PCC chief was himself making deals, saying give me your number, names, he was a part of the plot. Later, he claimed no horse-trading was taking place).”
Gehlot said he had to secure his MLAs into a hotel as what was happening now would have happened then otherwise. “The same people were being lured then at 2 at night.”
He claimed “proof” regarding those held “bandhak (hostage)” by the BJP. “Those who have taken instalments… Money was offered… Many people did not accept… they are sitting with me.”
At his press conference, reportedly at Rahul’s urging, Surjewala said the Congress leadership had given a lot of opportunities to Pilot, and he had become an MP, central minister, PCC president and deputy CM in 14-15 years, “which was unheard of for any leader in either the Congress or the BJP”.
Repeatedly referring to Pilot as “young”, “promising”, and as a “family member”, Surjewala said, “In the last five days, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi and Congress leadership… with a liberal mind have said that, even if a member of the family (leaves) the house by mistake, he still remains a part of the family. The Congress top leadership has spoken to him half-a-dozen times, two senior members of the CWC have spoken to him a dozen times and AICC general secretary, organisation, K C Venugopal has more than once told him that he should place before the party his views.”
On Pilot’s statement that he is not joining the BJP, Surjewala said he should stop talking through the media. He added that if Pilot wanted to prove his intentions, he should “come out of the Manohar Lal Khattar government’s security ring… leave the hotels in Manesar and Gurgaon… stop talking to BJP leaders”.
Gehlot hinted that Pilot had risen through the ranks unfairly. “Achcha English, Hindi bolna, achchi byte dena, woh sab kuchch nahin hota hai. Achchi handsome personality… sab kuchch nahin hota hai (Speaking good English, Hindi, having a handsome personality, none of this matters). What is important is what you feel for the country, what is your commitment, ideology, policy and intention when it comes to the party.”
Gehlot said he himself has been in politics for 40 years, and it was wrong to say the older generation in the Congress was not letting the young rise. “This new generation which has come up… we love them. Tomorrow is theirs… Rahul Gandhi likes them, Sonia Gandhi likes them … Inki ragdai nahin hui thi, isliye ab takleef hoti hai… Agar ragdai hui hoti, aur achche tareeke se kaam karte (They never saw struggle, which is why they are feeling the pain now. If they had, they would have put in better work).”
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