MLA from Bharatpur’s Deeg-Kumher VISHVENDRA SINGH, who was sacked as Rajasthan’s Tourism Minister when he rebelled along with Sachin Pilot and 17 other MLAs, speaks to The Indian Express on why he thinks the issues will be resolved and the row over audio clips.
What were the issues with the Ashok Gehlot government?
I was the cabinet minister and also the senior vice-president in the (state) organisation, under Mr Pilot. The government and the organisation needed to work together on a more closely- knit network. That network was somehow missing. So we wanted to go to the high command and seek time from them. We had no intentions, have no intentions, and will have no intentions of removing the government. But we were not heard in Jaipur, so we went to the high command, and the high command gave us time.
The amount of decisions that have been taken and the amount of cabinet meetings that have been held in the last one-and-a -half months, had not happened in 18 months. So this is exactly where the frustration came. How many decisions have gone through? It was all pending. We had no intention; nobody had any intention of bringing the government down, for what?
Why did it take a month for you and other MLAs to get time from high command?
They have so much on their plate, and everybody has been careful because of Covid also. We were waiting, everyday there was some kind of an assurance but they were also busy with other things.
Do you genuinely think the issues will be resolved?
Yes, I genuinely think. That is the only answer. Congress is a very big party, this is a very small thing. (There have been) …many, many large conflicts within the party and they have all been solved by the party high command. There have been much, much more serious matters which have been sorted, and this will be solved also.
What were the issues in your department?
Tourism department gives maximum revenue to the state and maximum employment. Policies and the ‘New Tourism Policy’, and we wanted to go on PPP mode, and other things were being delayed. And I constantly kept telling my Chief Minister and Mr Pilot that things need to be sorted out and we need to get this thing done. And finally the officials were changed, but by that time it had become too late. Tourism, as it is, is finished for the next two years.
The problem is, if a minister takes a certain decision and a certain bureaucrat has different ideas, there should not be a conflict of ideas.
The principal secretary was eventually transferred early last month
Yes she was transferred, but I am not naming one person. I am saying the system needs to (change); whoever is the minister is the minister. A person like me will not be dictated to by somebody who is my PST [Principal Secretary, Tourism]…the RTDC (Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation) fourth grade employees have been paid salaries after four months. Why couldn’t it have been done before, when I apprised everybody about the situation.
If the party offers you Tourism department or any other department, will you accept it?
The point is, we have put no conditions to anybody. I am a worker of the Congress party; I will continue to be a worker of the Congress party, though the party has suspended me.
The MLAs’ move to Delhi was seen as a rebellion and Sachin Pilot was also incommunicado
Have you, in the past one month, seen any tweet, any statement from our side, from Mr Pilot, or from other friends, which is anti-party or anti-government? We have been called baaghis (rebels), what does baaghi mean? Where have we betrayed, if we were baaghis we would not be sitting in Jaipur.
How did you spend your month, you shared a picture of your family sharing a meal
I did that deliberately, to (dismiss claims) that we are in a camp. I was in my house, Pilot saheb was in his house.
Gehlot camp also points to your Tweets from before all this began, where you have exchanged tweets with BJP leaders
They have retweeted my tweets which they thought correct, for which I thank them for, which is gracious of them. It is very rare that you find the Opposition party appreciating what you’re doing. It’s a moment to be proud of. I’ll be very blunt about it. Like Mr Modi, he praised CM Ashok Gehlot for the work he has done in Covid. So if you see that as a link between the two, then it’s very short sighted.
But you also questioned the government and that was praised by the Opposition on Twitter
See, I am a very transparent man. If I am not able to deliver the job I have been given to do, I will definitely put it out in the public, that this is what is happening, so that the public knows where we stand, my department knows exactly where we stand. And the public has the right to know that. We should be transparent, and everybody should be transparent.
Will you be able to serve your constituents better without a ministerial position?
I think I will be able to give more time. But the disadvantage is that the works we want to get done in our constituency, it will slow our pace. You can’t do as much as a minister can do, but that is up to the high command to decide.
There was an FIR by the SOG
That is very sad. And Mr Pilot did no anti-national activity. It is sad that we had to go to court, and the matter went to SOG, then they realised their error and the matter went to ACB, and now it is pending in the ACB court. And I have full faith in the judiciary.
But Congress chief whip Mahesh Joshi submitted audio clips, claiming it is you who is speaking to someone
If you present a tape, which is totally edited. And it is not [Union Minister] Gajendra Singh I’m talking to, it’s a friend I’m talking to, as simple as that. And who would talk about anything on an open line. And I want to know who gave the authority to tap a minister’s phone? Or forget a minister, a public representative’s.
They are claiming it was not phone tapping
What other means, put them forward. It is very easy to make an allegation on somebody.
There were raids by IT and ED on people close to Mr Gehlot
If you think I and Mr Pilot have powers over ED…I am not in the central government, I am not in charge of ED, or Income Tax.
It was construed in a particular way
You can construe anything about anything, that is a fact of life.
What more needs to be done on part of CM Gehlot?
It is a family, even husband and wife have a problem sometimes. But it is all sorted out. He’s the head of the family in Rajasthan, he’ll sort it out, and the committee that has been formed will sort it out. We still have high respect for Mr Gehlot, despite what has happened.
Their MLAs are still being kept at Fairmont
I wonder why.