A handshake Thursday evening between Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and rival Sachin Pilot, removed as Deputy Chief Minister following a rebellion last month, reaffirmed the truce secured by the Congress leadership ahead of the Assembly session starting Friday.
Pilot and his rebel MLAs reached Gehlot’s residence in Jaipur for a meeting of the Congress Legislature Party where the leaders of the two camps shook hands, raised victory signs and posed for cameras.
Before they arrived, Gehlot had already spoken on the “need to forgive and forget in the interest of the country, state, people” and move ahead.
At the meeting, Gehlot said his government will go for a trust vote in the House “and show the power of Congress”. Party sources confirmed that he will seek a trust vote Friday itself.
Sources quoted Gehlot as saying “we would have gone for a floor test without some of our friends (the rebel MLAs) and perhaps the government would have been saved, but honestly, hamare dil mein woh khushi nahin hoti (we wouldn’t have been happy deep inside). Hamare hamare hi hote hain, paraye paraye hi hote hain (our dear ones are our own, outsiders are outsiders)”.
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He said if anyone has any complaint about him or the ministers, then he and the ministers will try to address them. All MLAs then raised their hands to express confidence in him. “Consider it a bad dream which is over, the entire family is together now,” the CM said.
Ahead of the CLP meeting, the Congress withdrew the suspension of rebel MLAs Bhanwarlal Sharma and Vishvendra Singh — their names had come up in audio tapes which were shared by the party with the Special Operations Group.
Pilot was among the first to reach the CM residence, where he was welcomed by Govind Singh Dotasra, the man who replaced him as the state Congress president. He sat with Dotasra and AICC leaders Randeep Singh Surjewala, KC Venugopal, Avinash Pande and Ajay Maken, before Gehlot joined them.
The leaders then moved outdoors for the CLP meeting. Pilot sat next to the Chief Minister; also flanking Pilot was Pande with whom he had differences in the past.
Pilot thanked Sonia Gandhi and Gehlot for being made the party’s state president and then Deputy CM. He also thanked Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra for listening to his and the other MLAs’ “suggestions on how to be a more responsive government and how to be more flexible in order to seek re-election three years later. It is a good thing the party heard us and established a road map on how to implement those things”.
Since it was Pilot’s first address following his removal as party’s state president he “thanked every single MLA who supported me in those five years”. He also said if “jaane anjane mein (unintentionally)” he had said something (which hurt anyone), then it was not his intention or sentiment.
AICC general secretary Venugopal said, “The whole country and Congress workers across India are watching Sachinji’s coming here today, and it has given strength to the Congress party in the whole country, not just in Rajasthan.” He also said it would have affected the party’s future “if something were to go wrong”.
Venugopal conveyed Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi’s message to Gehlot and Pilot: desist from interviews and statements. He said a “post-mortem” has been conducted and the party high command has “requested everyone, including the Chief Minister, including Sachin Pilotji, including all MLAs: no interview, no statement”.
Earlier in the day, Gehlot said, “Save Democracy should be our priority with the spirit to forgive and forget. The conspiracy that is going on to topple elected governments one by one in the country, the way governments were toppled in the states of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and other states, how ED, CBI, Income Tax… have been misused, it is a very dangerous game that is going on to undermine democracy.”
“The struggle of the Congress party is to save democracy under the leadership of Sonia Gandhiji and Rahul Gandhiji. Whatever misunderstanding occurred in the party in the last one month, we need to forgive and forget in the interest of the country, state, people and in the interest of democracy. We have to put all our energies in this fight to save democracy with the spirit of forgive and forget and move forward,” he said.
After the CLP meeting, MLAs of the Gehlot camp returned to the Fairmont resort. The MLAs with Pilot did not join them.
The BJP, meanwhile, decided to move a motion of no-confidence against the Gehlot government in the Assembly Friday.
The BJP took the decision during a meeting of its legislature party and that of its ally, the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP), at the BJP headquarters Thursday.
“It is possible that the government from its own end moves a trust vote. They will do their job, but we will move a motion of no-confidence against the government tomorrow on behalf of the BJP and its allies,” Leader of Opposition Gulab Chand Kataria said after the meeting.
“Even now, there are attempts to patch up. One is heading east while the other is heading west. Under such circumstances, I don’t think the government will last long. Despite attempts to stitch, the clothes (of the government) are torn,” Kataria said.
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Others at the meeting included former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, the party’s national general secretary P Muralidhar Rao, national vice president and Rajasthan in-charge Avinash Rai Khanna.
Signatures were obtained from all MLAs present at the meeting in favour of the no-confidence motion.
State BJP president Satish Poonia said the party is in no hurry, but even without an astrologer, one can tell that the Congress government does not have a future.
BJP sources said Vasundhara Raje told the MLAs to remain united, that the Congress government was a divided house, its future uncertain.
In a Twitter post in Hindi, Vasundhara Raje said: “Some people are spreading news about discord in the BJP. I would like to tell them that BJP is a family, and we are all pledged and united to take it forward. Rajmataji had taught me that the party in which I am a worker, for it the nation is supreme, and I am following in her footsteps.” She also met Governor Kalraj Mishra at the Raj Bhavan.
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