In the middle of grappling with the raging Congress crisis that has erupted in Jaipur following the move by around 90 party MLAs loyal to Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot to submit their resignation to Assembly Speaker C P Joshi on Sunday night in protest against the party high command’s perceived inclination to hand over the chief ministership to Sachin Pilot, the All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary in charge of Rajasthan, Ajay Maken, speaks to The Indian Express on the latest turmoil roiling the grand old party. Excerpts:
What transpired in Jaipur Sunday?
First of all I want to make it very clear that the CLP (Congress Legislature Party) meeting was convened after discussions with Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. The date and time was discussed with him. It is not that we just – I and Mallikarjun Kharge – just landed in Jaipur. I had spoken to the Chief Minister and asked for a convenient time for the meeting. He suggested that come on Sunday and have the meeting. So everything was discussed and finalised and the Chief Whip (Mahesh Joshi) told everyone.
What happened then?
When we reached there, three representatives of the MLAs who are with the CM — Parliamentary Affairs Minister Shanti Dhariwal, Mahesh Joshi and Cabinet Minister Pratap Singh Khachariyawas — came to meet us. They put forward before us three conditions. The first condition was that even if the resolution authorising the Congress president to take a decision (on Gehlot’s successor) is passed, the decision should be taken only after October 19 (the counting day in the Congress presidential election) to which I said it would be a complete conflict of interest as Gehlot as a CM is moving a resolution and he has openly declared that he will contest the election. And if he becomes the Congress president, the resolution which he is moving now..he is moving the resolution to empower himself after October 19 on who should replace him. I asked them how is it justified. They wanted this to be a part of the resolution and openly announced. Giving this reason, I said no.
What were the other conditions?
The second thing they wanted us to do was instead of meeting one to one they wanted us to meet MLAs in groups. I said it is not proper as the norm is to meet each and every MLA so that the MLAs can freely and frankly give their views. When they come in groups some people might be under pressure… We want them to say whatever they want to say freely. Kharge is quite a senior person. I am also extremely neutral as far as Rajasthan is concerned. Nobody can say I am Gehlot or Sachi Pilot’s person. So I told them you just tell your views. We will convey that as it is to the Congress president.
Thirdly, they wanted to be part of the resolution or publicly announced that neither Sachin Pilot nor anyone from his group should be the Chief Minister. The CM should be chosen from the 102 MLAs. I said whatever you are saying we will send it to the Congress president as it is but we can’t make it part of the resolution. Such a thing has never happened because once you are passing a resolution leaving it to the Congress president..you cannot attach strings to that.
They kept on insisting that the resolution should be based on these three conditions and these conditions should be part of the resolution. We told them there cannot be conditional resolutions. It has never happened before.
The MLAs have submitted resignations. How do you see that?
We don’t know how many MLAs have submitted resignation and who all.
The MLAs had a separate meeting. Was it indiscipline?
Prima facie it is indiscipline. When an official meeting had been convened.. to call a parallel meeting unofficially is indiscipline. Let’s see what karavai (action) is taken on this.
What happens now?
We are returning to Delhi today and we will submit the report to the Congress president.
Did you speak to the MLAs through the night because the CLP meeting could not take place?
No. We did not because the MLAs did not come. What we wanted was that a one-line resolution is passed and then we sit throughout the night and hear the views of each and every MLA.
Have you called Gehlot and Pilot to Delhi for talks?
Not yet. We will go and submit our report to the Congress president. Let us see what decision is taken and how.