At least 18 party MLAs, including Cabinet Ministers Vishvendra Singh and Ramesh Chand Meena, are learnt to have skipped the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting at Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s residence on Monday, despite the party whip.
A third minister, Master Bhanwarlal Meghwal, who holds the Social Justice and Empowerment and Disaster Management and Relief portfolios, was also absent. But party leaders cited his ill-health — Meghwal suffered a paralytic attack recently.
While a few of those who stayed away made it clear that they were supporting Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot, the others could not be contacted. Party sources, however, confirmed that these MLAs did not attend the meeting.
Among those who are learnt to have stayed away are:
* Vishvendra Singh, from the erstwhile Bharatpur royal family, holds the Tourism and Devasthan portfolios in the state government. Singh, who represents Deeg-Kumher constituency, tweeted photographs of Pilot holding party programmes over the last five years. “Whatever my decision, it will be in the interest of the people who have elected me,” he tweeted.
* Ramesh Chand Meena, who is the minister for Food and Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department, confirmed to The Indian Express that he didn’t attend the meeting. Asked about his next step, he said, “we will let you know soon”. Responding to a question, he confirmed that he supports Pilot.
* Harish Meena, former Rajasthan Director General of Police (DGP), is the Congress MLA from Tonk district. He was earlier the BJP MP from Dausa (2014-2018), and joined the Congress before the state assembly elections in 2018. His brother, Namo Narain Meena, also a retired IPS officer, was a minister in the UPA government.
* Deependra Singh Shekhawat is a five-time Congress MLA who was earlier the Assembly Speaker.
* Two senior Jat leaders, Gudamalani MLA Hemaram Choudhary and Jhunjhunu MLA Brijendra Singh Ola, are also learnt to have stayed away. Choudhary was miffed after being denied a ministerial berth. Ola is the son of late Congress leader Sis Ram Ola, who was once considered a potential challenger to Gehlot.
* Party sources said MLAs Gajraj Khatana, Rakesh Pareek and Prithviraj Meena were also absent. These MLAs, as well as Minister Ramesh Chand Meena and former DGP Harish Meena, are from areas in eastern Rajasthan, near Ajmer and Tonk regions. While Pilot was earlier MP from Ajmer and Dausa (also in eastern Rajasthan), he was elected to the Assembly from Tonk.
In the 2018 Assembly elections, the Congress had won most of the seats in eastern Rajasthan – a victory that was attributed to Pilot’s influence in the area.
* A senior Congress MLA said Bhanwarlal Sharma, Murari Lal Meena, Ramniwas Gawriya and Suresh Modi also stayed away.
* First-time MLA Mukesh Bhakar (Ladnun), who is also the president of the Youth Congress unit in the state, tweeted, in Hindi, that being a “slave” to Gehlot was not acceptable. He posted a poem in Hindi, which translated as: “If you are alive, you should look alive; when principles are threatened, you should fight.”
* According to party sources, Indraj Singh Gurjar from Viratnagar constituency in Jaipur district, Amar Singh from Bayana constituency in Bharatpur district (also in eastern Rajasthan), Gajendra Singh Shaktawat from Vallabnagar in Udaipur district, and Ved Prakash Solanki from Chaksu constituency in Jaipur district also didn’t attend the meeting.
Late at night, the Pilot camp released a video showing some of the party MLAs who are supporting him. The video — posted by Lokendra Singh, who manages media relations for Pilot, in a WhatsApp group – showed the MLAs sitting together. Minister Vishvendra Singh also tweeted the video, and captioned it ‘#family’.
While Pilot belongs to the Gujjar community, which accounts for about 6 per cent of the population in the state, the MLAs who skipped the CLP meeting included, besides Gujjars, those from the Jat, Rajput and Meena communities.
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