Internal tussle: Rumblings in Rajasthan Congress after CM Gehlot attacks Pilot
Gehlot’s unprecedented remarks, made in an interview to NDTV, also stuck out for their timing as they were made while Pilot was participating in the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Burhanpur (Madhya Pradesh) and was photographed with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot lashed out at his rival Sachin Pilot on Thursday, calling him a traitor who cannot be made CM, prompting the former deputy CM to say the remarks were unbecoming of a senior leader, and marking yet another fractious battle to roil one of India’s last Congress-ruled states .
Gehlot’s unprecedented remarks, made in an interview to NDTV, also stuck out for their timing as they were made while Pilot was participating in the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Madhya Pradesh’s Burhanpur and was photographed with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
“A gaddar (traitor) cannot be made the CM. The high command cannot make Pilot the CM…a man who doesn’t have 10 MLAs. Who revolted and betrayed the party,” Gehlot said, referring to Pilot’s unsuccessful rebellion in 2020.
Gehlot alleged that the 2020 rebellion was sponsored by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and said lawmakers in Rajasthan would never accept Pilot as CM, refuting notions that the two leaders had agreed on a pact to share the CM’s tenure after the Congress won a majority in the 2018 assembly elections.
When asked that Pilot has said that he was promised an equal term as the CM, Gehlot said, “The question does not arise. But if he (Pilot) still says it, then ask Rahul Gandhi (if such a condition was there).” He added that no such discussions happened.
Hours later, Pilot hit back and said it was no time for allegations and mud-slinging.
“It does not look good for a senior leader like Ashok ji, who has such a vast experience, to make such baseless allegations. It is not time for such mud-slinging. The effort on our part should be to work together unitedly so that we can have government in Gujarat, where Ashok ji is senior observer, and repeat the Congress government in Rajasthan,” he told news agency ANI.
Pilot added that only the Congress could take on the BJP nationally. “All our effort should be there to fight the BJP repeatedly,” he said.
The two leaders have been bitter rivals for years but things came to a head in 2020 when Pilot rebelled against Gehlot’s leadership. Then, earlier this year, lawmakers considered close to Gehlot defied the party leadership’s diktat to allow the high-command to nominate the next CM -- at the time, Gehlot was the frontrunner to become the next Congress chief -- because there was speculation that Pilot would become the next CM. The factionalism may hurt the party ahead of polls scheduled next year. Rajasthan is one of only two states where the Congress is in power on its own.
Talking about the 2020 crisis, Gehlot alleged that Union home minister Amit Shah and education minister Dharmendra Pradhan were involved in an attempt to topple his government. “They (Pilot included) had a meeting in Delhi. Of the MLAs, who was with them said that some got ₹5 crores and some ₹10 crore. I have the proof,” he alleged. The BJP denied the charges.
The verbal battle erupted just days before the Bharat Jodo Yatra is scheduled to enter Rajasthan amid comments and counter comments by leaders from both camps.
Talking about the rebellion of Rajasthan legislators earlier this year, Gehlot said MLAs were upset as news was spread that Pilot will be made the CM. “He (Pilot) himself propagated this and even called many MLAs saying that the observers are coming. In this illusion, people thought he was going to be the CM…this upset the MLAs because how can he be the CM after trying to bring down his own government?” Gehlot said.
Pilot called for the party to come together. “Ashok Gehlot called me many things. He called me a ‘gaddar’. But it is more important for the Congress to unite against the BJP”: Pilot added. He also asked the party workers to unite for sake of the party and ensure that the Bharat Jodo Yatra gets a rousing reception in Rajasthan.
The Congress party sought to quell the factionalism. “ 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. Right now it is the duty of each and every Congressman and Congresswoman to make the already hugely successful Bharat Jodo Yatra even more impactful in the north Indian states,” said Congress leader Jairam Ramesh.
Meanwhile, the BJP denied all charges of their role in the rebellion. “An old film of Congress has come out, Gaddar Kaun? (who is the traitor?). Till date they have failed to assess who was at fault but in the end it is the public who is suffering,” said state unit chief Satish Punia. “These are all political accusations, which even I can do. Gehlot is doing it for face saving. His charges have no basis or logic.”
Deputy Leader of Opposition, Rajendra Singh Rathore, said the infighting in the Congress has once again become public. “ It is now certain that the fight for the chief minister’s chair will end with the departure of the government. Gehlot repeatedly makes unbridled allegations against the BJP regarding the rebellion in the Congress in July 2020 and does not tire of claiming that he has proof of horse-trading of Congress MLAs. If the CM has any evidence in this regard, then why is he so nervous in placing it before the people of the state?”