The swiftness with which the Congress acted against Sachin Pilot, removing him as Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister and PCC president, has no parallel in the recent history of the party. The decision, described as “a difficult one” by one and all in the party, came after 72 hours of hard bargaining by both sides at the top level.
And despite the action and show of strength by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, a senior high command leader conceded it will be a “difficult journey” for the Gehlot government from now on.
So, what transpired in the last 72 hours? Despite Pilot’s posturing that his fight is for “honor and justice” — in the context of the FIR and the SOG notice — sources said the post of the CM was at the heart of the negotiations.
An MLA at the Manesar resort, who is with Pilot, told The Indian Express that they wanted Pilot as CM, replacing Gehlot.
Sources said Pilot had two main demands: replace Gehlot and make him the CM, or give a public commitment that he will be made CM at least a year before the next Assembly elections in 2023. The demands, according to a Congress leader who was part of the talks, were “unreasonable”.
AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, sources said, spoke to Pilot twice Tuesday morning as well. Rahul Gandhi, Ahmed Patel, P Chidambaram, K C Venugopal too were in touch with him.
One senior leader told The Indian Express he was aware that a promise was made to Pilot at the highest level some time ago, perhaps a year ago, that there will be a change of guard in Rajasthan before the Assembly elections. “But how can we make it public? He could have waited,” the leader said. “He perhaps wanted that promise made public,” the leader said.
The Congress too had a condition. Pilot, sources said, was told to make a public statement that he was, and would remain, in the Congress. This was to clear the air that he was in talks with the BJP.
“Once he gives a statement that he was and will remain in the Congress… then it becomes our internal matter… we will sort it out… but he was not willing,” another leader said.
Pilot also wanted a change in portfolios and posts for his loyalist MLAs. “That could have been agreed to without much problem. But he was not willing to say publicly that he is in the Congress and will remain with the party… How can you hold discussions with him beyond a point when he is not willing to say he is in the Congress while sitting in a BJP-ruled state, enjoying the hospitality of the BJP government and in the protection of Haryana Police,” one of the leaders said.
The AICC observers in Jaipur — in-charge Avinash Pande and senior leaders Randeep Surjewala and Ajay Maken — got the green signal from the high command to initiate disciplinary action against Pilot Monday night itself but were told to wait since the channel of communication with him was open.
Sources said the message from Rahul Gandhi was clear: try to bring him back because the party has invested a lot in him.
“We have identified the five-six eventualities that we may face and identified the legal and political steps that need to be taken in that case. We have prepared ourselves. But the ball is in his (Pilot’s) court. We will wait for his move as well as that of the BJP,” a senior leader said.
The party’s central observers will remain in Jaipur for the next three-four days. “We have to be extra-vigilant. We apprehend poaching attempts… but we are in touch with MLAs who are with him too.”
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