Three days after the showdown between Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his deputy Sachin Pilot triggered a crisis in Rajasthan, the Congress moved swiftly on Tuesday, removing Pilot from both his posts — as deputy chief minister and state PCC chief.
The party also cracked the whip on Pilot’s loyalists: Vishvendra Singh and Ramesh Meena were removed from the state cabinet, and the state presidents of the Youth Congress and Seva Dal were replaced.
The decision was announced after Pilot and his MLAs skipped the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meet in the morning — the second in two days — at a hotel on the outskirts of Jaipur, where the Gehlot camp is keeping Congress and other supporting MLAs.
The party issued a notice to all Congress MLAs who skipped the CLP meeting.
Soon after he was sacked, Pilot tweeted: “Satya ko pareshan kiya ja sakta hai, parajit nahi (Truth can be harassed, not defeated).” In another tweet at night, he said: “My heartfelt thanks and gratitude to all those who have come out in my support today.”
Gehlot, who met Governor Kalraj Mishra after the CLP meeting, claimed the party was forced to take this decision when it “saw that they (Pilot camp) had struck a deal with BJP and decided to form a new party”.
“We gave them full opportunity. We kept a CLP meeting yesterday, but they didn’t come. Today’s meeting was also kept for them, to give them another chance… that maybe God will give them good sense and they’ll come, but even then they didn’t,” he said.
He said Pilot had “played into the BJP’s hands” and the conspiracy was being planned for the last six months. Gehlot said the Congress has 107 MLAs in the 200-member Assembly. Citing the anti-defection law, he said: “You can break off from a party when you have two-thirds majority… Twenty people don’t break a party…Why did they play this game? And then you are blackmailing.”
He said the “Supreme Court’s orders are clear: if one decides to go against their party, their membership is terminated.”
Gehlot claimed that 8-10 Congress MLAs from the Pilot camp wanted to return, but were being guarded at a resort managed by the BJP.
“I’m sad that for the first time after independence, there is a government which is breaking governments through money power… I can’t believe that crores of rupees are being traded,” he said.
Later in the day, Gehlot chaired a cabinet meeting at his residence. Sources said he discussed cabinet expansion and allotment of portfolios – nine departments are now without a minister.
Earlier, announcing the decision after the CLP meeting, AICC spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said: “All of us have a regret: that Rajasthan’s Deputy CM, our young colleague Sachin Pilot and some Congress MLAs and ministers were caught in the web of a conspiracy weaved by the BJP to topple the Congress government”.
He said he was making the announcement “with a heavy heart ”. Surjewala said Pilot had enjoyed the “love and blessings” of the party high command, which made him an MP, Union minister, and state party chief at a very young age.
He said the party high command had spoken to Pilot half-a-dozen times since Saturday and emphasised that differences should be resolved within the family.
“The BJP challenged the honour of 8 crore citizens (of Rajasthan). It conspired to topple the democratically elected majority government of Rajasthan. By misusing money power and muscle power, by misusing the ED and IT, the BJP has committed the unpardonable crime of buying the loyalties of Congress and independent MLAs,” he said.
Education Minister and OBC leader Govind Singh Dotasra has been made the new PCC chief; Ganesh Ghogra has replaced Ladnun MLA Mukesh Bhakar as the state IYC chief; Hem Singh Shekhawat has replaced MLA Rakesh Pareek as the state president of the Congress Seva Dal.
Meanwhile, Abhimanyu Poonia, president of the state NSUI unit, resigned. “We cannot work with a chief minister who has worked to send the heads of Jat and Bishnoi families to jail. Our honesty and conscience is still alive,” he tweeted.
Poonia said 400-500 post-holding members of the Youth Congress, NSUI and Seva Dal have resigned in protest. Pilot loyalists have also resigned en masse in Ajmer division and other parts of the state. At least 59 office-bearers have submitted their resignations in Tonk – Pilot’s assembly constituency.
Late in the night, Rajasthan Congress in-charge Avinash Pande dismissed the entire state party unit, and said all appointments would be made afresh. He also issued a gag order on party leaders, barring them from communicating with the media without permission from the new PCC chief.
Congress MLA Chetan Dudi said the Gehlot government has the support of 109 MLAs – “102 Congress, 2 Bharatiya Tribal Party, 1 CPI(M), 4 Independents.” But BTP MLA from Chorasi in Dungarpur, Rajkumar Roat, posted videos to claim that he was stopped by police and his car keys were taken away. On Monday, BTP president Maheshbhai Vasava had issued a whip asking both party MLAs to not support the Gehlot or Pilot camps, or even the BJP.
Meanwhile, Pilot loyalists Vishvendra Singh, Ramesh Meena and Deependra Singh said in a statement: “We are taking a stand to protect our dignity and self-respect at a time when our leader is threatened with notices from the SOG under the charges of sedition and criminal conspiracy. This is unprecedented in Indian democracy…”
Following the action against him, Singh, who held the Tourism and Devasthan portfolios, said: “When did we make anti-party statements. We only wanted to draw the attention of the high command, that we are not able to deliver the things listed in our manifesto.”
Meena said the work done by his Food and Civil Supplies department was praised by many, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “And this is what I get. When did we go against the party or indulge in irregularities? We were dissatisfied and brought this before the party,” he said.
Meanwhile, state BJP leaders, including Leader of Opposition Gulab Chand Kataria and state party president Satish Poonia, held a meeting at the party office on Tuesday. They later demanded a floor test.
“I believe cabinet expansion should take place only after proving majority on the floor of the Assembly,” said Kataria.
Former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje is expected to arrive in Jaipur from Dholpur on Wednesday and meet state party leaders.
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