IN WHAT appears to be a showdown by Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot almost 18 months after Congress returned to power in the state, his office on Sunday claimed that the Ashok Gehlot-led government was reduced to a minority after over 30 Congress and some independent legislators pledged support to Pilot.
The statement issued by Lokendra Singh, who manages media relations for Pilot, also said, “Rajasthan Deputy CM & Congress leader Sachin Pilot not to attend Congress Legislative Party meeting scheduled to be held tomorrow.”
Pilot has remained incommunicado for the past two days, and some legislators backing him also stayed put in the National Capital Region. He was inactive on social media too, and did not respond to calls or text messages by Congress leaders. His silence, however, fueled speculation in New Delhi over his next course of action. When asked if he was joining the BJP, Pilot told The Indian Express, “I am not joining the BJP.”
Explained | What Pilot vs Gehlot means for both — and party
With the political crisis escalating, the Congress party rushed Ajay Maken and Randeep Surjewala to Jaipur along with General Secretary and Rajasthan in-charge Avinash Pande. Pande had submitted a report to Congress President Sonia Gandhi on the situation in the state, which is still unraveling.
The Gehlot camp, however, dismissed the claims made by Pilot’s office as “fake” and “rumours”. “His office can run anything. We will consider it official when he himself comes forward and makes the claim. Tomorrow he can distance himself from the claims made by his office,” said a Congress leader close to Gehlot.
To display his government was on a sure footing, Gehlot called Congress MLAs and others supporting him at his residence on Sunday; around 90 MLAs met him, sources close to Gehlot said. Later in the evening, Congress MLA Rajendra Gudha said, “Gehlot ji has majority. We are also making efforts and some BJP MLAs are in contact. We will bring more MLAs from BJP than we would lose.”
The statement on behalf of Pilot was posted by Lokendra Singh, admin of the Whatsapp group ‘Sachin Pilot: Update’ at around 9 pm Sunday.
A close aide of Pilot said, he was cut up with the notice sent to him by the Rajasthan Police SOG. “A notice was issued to him under 124 B, which is sedition, and 120 A. Have you heard of any chief minister of an elected government issuing such a notice to the party President and Deputy CM…What if Pilot had been the Home Minister of the state and had issued such a notice to the Chief Minister? The Chief Minister would have dismissed him straight away,” a Congress state leader close to Pilot said.
“This notice is basically issued just to show the world that the Chief Minister can do whatever he wants and that he can discredit, humiliate, allege and treat the party president and Deputy CM as a non-entity. It is being done primarily to put him under surveillance legally and cause stress,” the leader said.
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The sources close to Pilot said the notice was “unwarranted” and “no self-respecting person would tolerate it.” Withdrawal of the notice too may not resolve the crisis, they said. SOG officials said notices had been sent to over a dozen MLAs, mainly independent MLAs, apart from the CM and Deputy CM to record their statements.
Avinash Pande, Congress General Secretary and Rajasthan in-charge, however, told The Indian Express that the party “doesn’t see a reason for his narazgi (dissatisfaction) because he has the responsibility of PCC chief as well as Deputy CM – which are big responsibilities. In such a situation, he will act responsibly.”
Just a day before on Saturday, Gehlot had claimed that BJP was engineering to topple his government, even as the SOG arrested two BJP members and quoted them in the FIR discussing the Deputy CM and his plans to break away from Congress and the government.
Congress MLA from Kishanpole Amin Kagzi, said, “I want to assure you that at the moment, there’s no crisis. But we are hearing about horse trading and some people are also in Delhi… We are hoping that they also return to Jaipur. We don’t have a fixed estimate but as per guess, there are around 15-18 people who want to meet and talk with the high command.”
Congress MLA from Deedwana in Nagaur, Chetan Dudi, who was among those who were in Delhi, said that, “To my knowledge there was no herding of MLAs and I did not get a call regarding this. I have said this time and again that I will be there whenever Congress needs me. Second, I returned from Delhi Sunday morning and am at my private residence I work according to the wishes of my ancestors and workers – they have placed their trust in Congress…I will support Congress government 100 per cent for its entire tenure.”
Three Independent MLAs, being investigated by the Rajasthan Anti-Corruption Bureau in connection with the SOG probe, have also been out of Rajasthan and claimed disillusionment with Gehlot for being named in the investigation. While Suresh Tak and Om Prakash Hudla were in Delhi, Khushveer Singh was in Gujarat.
As per ACB officials, the three had met another Independent MLA Ramila Khadiya, who is named in an FIR complaint registered by the SOG in Jaipur. Khadiya was alleged to have been offered money by the two BJP men who were arrested by the SOG.
Tak told The Indian Express that he was unhappy with CM Gehlot as he had met him on Friday but later in the day, he learnt he was being investigated by the ACB. Formerly in the BJP, he said he was “wholeheartedly” with Gehlot and the betrayal “immensely saddened” him. “On 10th, the CM called me within half-an-hour notice and I reached. I told him many details one to one but same day a case was registered against me; we were made sacrificial lambs.” “Is meeting a fellow Independent MLA crime?”
He, however, claimed he had nothing to do with the Pilot camp either, saying that when bulls fight, the grass gets trampled. All three independent MLAs were removed as associate members of the Congress. Om Prakash Hudla was at his residence in Delhi, and said he will return in 2-4 days, while Khushveer Singh was in Gujarat with his in-laws.
Rajasthan Sports Minister Ashok Chandna said, “We don’t have any threat. The mentality of BJP is wrong and they will get their answer. The attempts of the BJP for toppling governments and horse trading have failed in Rajasthan. To those who have been in Congress for generations, I want to tell them that they learn from Madhya Pradesh. Those who left (the party) at Madhya Pradesh, they had to sit at their homes for four months and they have been made ministers out of compulsion just ahead of elections. They will also lose the elections and their ministerial posts,” he said.
In Rajasthan, Congress has the support of 122 MLAs – 107 of its own, 10 independents, two each of BTP and CPM and one of RLD. BJP has 72 MLAs and its ally RLTP three. With the majority mark being 101 in an Assembly of 200, BJP needs the support of at least 26 additional MLAs to stake claim to form a government.
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