Of the 18 MLAs who had sided with Sachin Pilot in 2018, and holed out with him during his rebellion against Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, most remain in the same camps in the latest upheaval to strike the Rajasthan Congress. However, there are changes.
If at least three MLAs, Rajendra Singh Gudha, Khiladi Lal Bairwa and Giriraj Singh Malinga, have moved from Gehlot’s side to Pilot’s, Vishvendra Singh and Ramesh Meena (both ministers) are now with the CM.
The MLA from Udaipurwati, Gudha has been at the forefront in the past week, taking on Gehlot and the MLAs who held a parallel gathering on September 25 and skipped the CLP meeting.
An MLA who got elected both in the 2008 and 2018 Assembly elections on BSP ticket, only to merge with the Congress later, Gudha was considered a diehard Gehlot loyalist. In 2018, he brought in five other BSP MLAs with him, thus helping Gehlot form the government and giving him leverage over Pilot. In turn, Gudha was made Minister of State with several portfolios. In the 2020 political crisis, all the six ex-BSP MLAs, including Gudha, sided with Gehlot.
As recently as earlier this month, Gehlot visited Gudha’s constituency to mark his son’s birthday.
However, a growing dissatisfaction had been evident, with Gudha saying openly that the promises made by the CM to them remained fulfilled. Suggesting that they had lost out on both counts, he was quoted as saying: “Our position is like a chicken that got killed, with the person who ate it saying it was not tasty.”
The final break with the Gehlot side is believed to have come a few days before the scheduled CLP meeting when Gudha met Pilot at his residence. On September 25, Gudha was among the few who reached the venue of the official CLP meeting.
Khiladi Lal Bairwa, the chairman of the Rajasthan Scheduled Caste Commission, on the other hand, has been sulking for long over not getting any ministerial post in the Gehlot government.
In August, the MLA from Baseri in Dholpur took on the Gehlot government openly following the death of a nine-year-old Dalit boy in Jalore, after he allegedly touched a water pot at school. Bairwa accused police of trying to cover up the case. Pilot had followed him to Jalore a day later, and taken an indirect swipe at Gehlot.
After Gehlot’s name came up as one of the probables for the post of Congress president, Bairwa was the first MLA to openly say that he supports Pilot as his replacement as CM. He also said that it was time the “three-time Chief Minister” Gehlot gave back to the party.
Following the CLP meeting fiasco, Bairwa, a former MP, went to Delhi and met Congress leaders, including Digvijaya Singh, who has now emerged as a contender for the president’s post.
The most surprising addition to the list of Pilot loyalists is Bari MLA Giriraj Singh Malinga. During the 2020 political crisis, Malinga had alleged that Pilot offered him Rs 35 crore to switch to the BJP; Pilot had denied this and sent him a legal notice, demanding an apology.
Earlier this year, Malinga, a Rajput, was accused of assaulting and severely injuring an Electricity Department employee belonging to a Scheduled Caste in Dholpur district. While the incident led to massive outrage against the Gehlot government, and the victim testified against Malinga, the state government delayed arresting him. Finally, after over a month, Malinga surrendered to the police after a visit to the Chief Minister’s Office.
While he got bail soon after, Malinga’s ties with the government have been strained since. Last month, he was among the MLAs who went to Pilot’s residence to wish him on his birthday.
Recently, he told reporters that Gehlot should move on as Congress president. “Those who call themselves true soldiers of the party, they are now opposing the party because ministers are worried that they will lose their chairs. Ashok Gehlot is getting a very good, respectable post (of national president) and I think that he should accept it,” he said, adding that the “traitors” inside the party should be punished and that he was with the Congress high command.
On the other end are Deeg-Kumher MLA Vishvendra Singh and Sapotra MLA Ramesh Meena, among the main supporters of Pilot in 2020 who have now switched to the Gehlot camp.
Sources say it was Vishvendra Singh’s son who was a staunch supporter of Pilot, and that ended when Singh – a member of the erstwhile Bharatpur royal family and the Civil Aviation Minister – fell out with him.
Since then, the minister has been seen in public events with Gehlot and also helped mediate on behalf of the government during some protests in Bharatpur, where he holds significant influence.
Recently at a public event, Singh jestingly told Gehlot, “CM sahab, I am your biggest Pilot, as the civil aviation department is with me.”
Meena, who is the Cabinet minister for Panchayati Raj and Rural Development, has also aligned himself with Gehlot and has been spotted touring various places with him. Correspondingly, he has refrained from commenting when asked about Pilot.