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Thursday, August 06, 2020

Jaipur tightrope: Congress lets Ashok Gehlot show strength, reaches out to placate Sachin Pilot

The Congress message was clear — the high command will back Ashok Gehlot since a majority of the MLAs are with him; the leadership will listen to Sachin Pilot's grievances and find “working solutions,” but not buckle under pressure.

Written by Manoj C G | New Delhi | Updated: July 14, 2020 11:18:39 am
Rajasthan crisis, Rajasthan government crisis, Sachin Pilot Ashok Gehlot tiff, India news, Indian Express Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Deputy CM Sachin Pilot. (Twitter/Rahul Gandhi)

The Congress central leadership Monday attempted a balancing act as it navigated the crisis in Rajasthan which showed no sign of an early resolution. The party allowed Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot a show of strength in Jaipur to signal that a majority of the MLAs are with him. At the same time, it tried to placate state unit chief and Deputy CM Sachin Pilot.

Sources said former president Rahul Gandhi, AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, and party veterans Ahmed Patel, P Chidambaram and K C Venugopal got in touch with Pilot who skipped a meeting of the Congress Legislature Party in Jaipur and remained closeted with a little over a dozen MLAs close to him at a five-star hotel in Manesar.

The Pilot camp made it clear that it is going to be a long-drawn battle. Neither he nor any of the MLAs close to him will attend the CLP meeting Tuesday, sources said.

The Congress message, however, was clear — the high command will back Gehlot since a majority of the MLAs are with him; the leadership holds no grudge against Pilot despite his revolt, will listen to his grievances and find “working solutions,” but not buckle under pressure.

“We are giving him enough time so that he does not say tomorrow that we did not speak to or reach out to him. Jyotiraditya Scindia’s complaint was that. Let’s see if he comes for Tuesday’s CLP meeting. If he does not turn up, he will violate the whip for the second time… Then we can think about taking some action; we have not yet decided but things can move in that direction,” a senior high command leader said.

Editorial | If Ashok Gehlot and his deputy are to blame for the current mess, Sonia and Rahul are the co-accused — all four need to reset

Pilot stood his ground. Sources close to him said he has not met any Congress leader or emissary and contested the party’s official claim that Gehlot has the support of 109 MLAs.

The Indian Expressspoke to Ved Prakash Solanki, an MLA, who is with Pilot at the hotel. “We all won elections because of him (Pilot), we are ready to face any action,” said Solanki, MLA from Jaipur Rural.

Asked whether he will follow Pilot if he joined the BJP, he said “Abhi tak aisa kuchh bi nahi hai. (There’s nothing like that right now). Wherever he requires us, we will go. Our demand is that Sachinji be made the Chief Minister for we won because of him…the youth voted because of him,” he said.

Jaipur tightrope: Congress lets Ashok Gehlot show strength, reaches out to placate Sachin Pilot CM Ashok Gehlot and Congress MLAs leaving for a luxury hotel after the CLP meeting in Jaipur on Monday. (Express Photo: Rohit Jain Paras)

Sources said some of the solutions the leadership is looking at include a Cabinet reshuffle to give Pilot and his loyal MLAs more weighty portfolios and withdrawing the controversial FIR and the police notice.

Pilot is currently in charge of four Ministries: Public Works, Rural Development; Panchayati Raj & Science and Technology; Statistics.

Whether this will placate Pilot or give him the space in Jaipur he has always wanted isn’t clear yet. He stayed away from the media glare and did not issue any statement Monday. On Sunday he had said that he was not joining the BJP.

Explained | Why this time battle-lines are drawn harder than ever in Rajasthan

But at least two senior leaders – one a close associate of Rahul Gandhi and another close to party chief Sonia Gandhi – told The Indian Express they had information that Pilot was “in touch” with the BJP.

Sources in the party said the Gehlot camp has secured signatures of support from 109 MLAs – these include Congress, independents and some smaller parties. As many as 104 were present at the legislature party meeting, one leader said. Sources said 17 or 18 of the 107 Congress MLAs are with Pilot, which is inadequate to topple the Gehlot government.

Gehlot needs the support of 101 MLAs for a simple majority in the 200-member House. The Pilot camp reiterated that around 30 MLAs are with him.

Earlier, before the CLP meeting, Congress leader Randeep Surjewala issued a public appeal to Pilot saying issues within a family can be resolved by sitting together. He said the party’s doors are always open to Pilot. He let it be known that the Congress leadership has spoken to Pilot a number of times in the last 48 hours signalling both restraint and flexibility.

The resolution adopted at the CLP meeting, too, did not name Pilot even while demanding strong disciplinary action against any party office-bearer or CLP member who was trying to weaken the government or indulging in anti-party activities.

For his part, Gehlot isn’t taking any chances and has moved MLAs to a resort in Jaipur. AICC in charge of the state Avinash Pande, Surjewala and senior leader Ajay Maken, who were rushed to Jaipur, have been asked to stay back.

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