Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tried to defuse the tension in the party’s Rajasthan unit on Monday, saying that Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Tonk MLA Sachin Pilot were assets for the party. The comments came even as the protracted war of words between the two rival factions showed no signs of stopping.
Speaking to reporters in Indore during the Bharat Jodo Yatra’s Madhya Pradesh leg, Gandhi called both the leaders “assets to the party”. The statement came on the heels of the explosive NDTV interview last week where Gehlot called Pilot a “gaddar (traitor)”, claiming that “he had proof that Pilot colluded with the BJP” during the 2020 political crisis in the state.
Following disagreements between the two leaders at the time, Pilot and a group of rebel MLAs camped in Manesar in Haryana. They were accused of trying to topple the Gehlot government. After a month of political uncertainty — it included MLAs loyal to the CM also huddling together — the Gandhi family stepped in and the rebels returned to the Congress fold. Gehlot won the subsequent trust vote in the Assembly. Pilot has denied the allegations surrounding the 2020 crisis and termed them “baseless”.
“Whatever Ashok ji has said must be right,” state Health Minister Parsadi Lal Meena told reporters recently. “Had these 102 MLAs (Gehlot loyalists) not been there, our government would have sunk just like Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra. There are ministers and a CM because of those 102 MLAs. Pilot sahab should clarify and tell the public why he and his loyalist MLAs stayed at Manesar for 35 days and why we had to stay at hotels during this period. If this was the party’s internal matter, it should have been sorted within the party itself.”
The health minister added, “Gehlot has said whatever he has said on the basis of information and evidence.”
Hitting back at him, state minister Murari Lal Meena, a Pilot loyalist and one of the 18 MLAs who were in Manesar, dared the Gehlot faction to arrest the MLAs from the Pilot faction.
“We had told the Congress high command, Rahul Gandhi ji, Sonia Gandhi ji, Priyanka Gandhi ji, why we went to Manesar. If you have evidence, then arrest us. Sachin Pilot is a kaddawar (heavyweight) leader. He is young and hard-working and the party is at an advantage because of him,” Murari said on Sunday.
He called on the high command to take a decision soon to allay the confusion among Congress workers. “We went to Manesar and went on to abide by what the high command said. We returned. Who didn’t follow what the high command said? There is a need to self-introspect as to who is a gaddar. The high command had convened a meeting in Jaipur, you know who didn’t attend it.”
Murari was referring to the events on September 25 when MLAs loyal to Gehlot skipped a meeting called by the party’s central leadership and submitted their resignations to stop any attempt to make Pilot the Chief Minister. Gehlot was in the running for the post of the Congress president at the time and the party, which has a one-member one-post rule, wanted to announce Pilot as the CM.