Sending a clear signal to the party high command, amid the demand by his rival camp for a decision on the leadership issue before the Bharat Jodo Yatra enters Rajasthan next month, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot launched a sharp offensive on Thursday, calling Sachin Pilot a “traitor (gaddar)” who colluded with the BJP. Saying Pilot doesn’t have the support of even 10 MLAs, Gehlot said he could not be made CM.
Gehlot’s no-holds-barred attack came on a day when Pilot joined Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Madhya Pradesh.
In an interview to NDTV news channel, while responding to a question on the party high command wanting to make Pilot the CM and indicating this to party observers, Gehlot said: “Nahin, nahin, nahin, usko nahin bana sakte. Woh koi na koi communication gap hua hai. Unko kaisey bana sakte hain? Jo aadmi ke paas dus toh vidhayak nahin hain… jisne revolt kiya ho, jisko gaddari naam diya gaya hai, gaddari ki party ke saath mein… jo party ke saath gaddari kiye hue aadmi hai, usko kaisey sweekar kar sakte hain koi log? Simple baat hai.”
(No, he cannot be made [the CM]. That must have been a communication gap. How can he be made [the CM]. A person who does not have even 10 MLAs… who revolted and was labelled a traitor, he betrayed the party… a person who betrayed the party, how can anybody accept him? It is simple).”
Gehlot said he hasn’t received any “indication” from the party high command about a possible change in the state.
Responding to Gehlot’s remarks, Pilot told ANI: “If a senior and experienced person makes such comments, it is inappropriate and doesn’t suit him. I don’t think it is right that we level allegations and counter-allegations at each other. It is a challenging time for the party to stay together. And until we work unitedly, how will we return to power in Rajasthan.”
He pointed out that Gehlot had called him “nikamma (worthless)” earlier too, and said “there is no need to level these false and baseless allegations”. “No person should be so insecure, because this is the order of life, there are ups and downs in politics. All of us should collectively strengthen the hands of Khargeji, Rahulji and Priyankaji,” said Pilot, adding that it was under his leadership that the Congress had formed a government in 2018, while it lost twice under Gehlot’s leadership.
Meanwhile, the Congress reacted cautiously to Gehlot’s attack on Pilot. “Ashok Gehlot is a senior and experienced political leader. Whatever differences he has expressed with his younger colleague Sachin Pilot will be resolved in a manner that strengthens the Congress party,” AICC general secretary in charge of communication Jairam Ramesh said in a statement.
In his interview, Gehlot defended the MLAs who held a parallel Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting in Jaipur on September 25, saying they were not “rebels” and it was a revolt against Pilot. He said the show of defiance was not at his behest. “The question does not arise. If a single MLA says that, I will leave the party,” he said.
About 90 party MLAs had skipped the CLP meet, where they were expected to pass a one-line resolution authorising the party high command to pick the next CM, as Gehlot was touted to contest for the post of Congress president.
“They (MLAs) were upset because word had spread that Pilot would be made the CM. People thought he was going to become the CM. Pilot also behaved that way, he telephoned MLAs several times, told them to leave the decision to the high command… the MLAs perhaps felt that even if only a one-line resolution is passed, there could be a swearing-in the next day,” he said.
Asked what the MLAs had against Pilot, Gehlot said: “Because of him, we had to remain in a hotel for 34 days (in 2020). He was trying to topple the government, and Amit Shah and Dharmendra Pradhan were involved in that. They were all meeting in Delhi, some of the MLAs who went… some of them met them. People stayed in a resort in Manesar for 34 days, so they felt angry.”
“We cannot imagine a party president joining hands with the Opposition to topple his own party’s government. You cannot find such an example anywhere in the country,” said Gehlot.
Pilot was Rajasthan’s Deputy Chief Minister and state Congress president when he rebelled against Gehlot in 2020. He was sacked from both the posts then.
Gehlot said Pilot cannot deny his collusion with the BJP. “It was their game. Rs 10 crore was distributed. I have proof, I don’t know who got how much…5 crore or 10 crore. But many people collected the money from the BJP office in Delhi. Some of them have told me this personally,” he said.
Gehlot said Pilot should have apologised to the party high command, people of the state and the MLAs. “He has not apologised till date. If he had apologised, I would not have had to apologise. If he had apologised and won over the MLAs again… the mood perhaps would have changed… this situation would not have arisen… I would not have had to apologise to Sonia Gandhi,” he said.
Gehlot said the MLAs who stayed away from the CLP meeting have the “highest respect” for Sonia. “The revolt by 90 MLAs was against Pilot. Some of our ministers later said…we will not accept a traitor,” he said. Asked whether he too felt that Pilot was a traitor, Gehlot replied: “Bilkul maante hai… kyun nahin maante (I do, why shouldn’t I)… I am of the view that there is no problem in making someone from among the 102 MLAs who stayed with the party the CM.”
Saying that he was loyal to the high command, Gehlot said “it is for the high command to take a decision in the interest of the party”. He said he had conveyed to then party president Sonia and party leader Ajay Maken in August that he was ready to step down if the high command wanted to appoint a new CM ahead of state elections next year.
Gehlot’s aggressive stand presents the first big challenge for new party president Mallikarjun Kharge. So far, the party high command had signalled that it will take a call on Rajasthan after the Assembly elections in Gujarat and Karnataka.