Boost for CM Ashok Gehlot as Sachin Pilot mutiny all but over
Former Rajasthan deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot, whose rebellion raised questions about the stability of the Congress government in the state, appeared to have agreed to a truce after his meeting with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi on Monday, putting an end to a month-long uncertainty involving dramatic legal and political flashpoints in the western state.
Pilot expressed his “grievances in detail” in the “open and conclusive discussion” with former party president Gandhi, the Congress said in a statement, while declaring the formation of a three-member committee to look into the issues raised by the 42-year-old leader and the 18 other rebel legislators who backed him.
“...Shri Sachin Pilot has committed to working in the interest of the Congress party and the Congress government in Rajasthan,” the statement issued by KC Venugopal, Congress general secretary in charge of the organisation, said.
Leaders close to Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot, who has had differences with Pilot on a number of issues since the Congress-led government came to power in December 2018, said Gehlot will accept the high command’s decision and termed Pilot’s move as a “face-saver”.
Pilot’s apparent softening of stance not only bolsters Gehlot politically and eliminates any possible threat to his government but also gives a much-needed breather to the Congress, which has been suffering due to a perceived generational gap between its old and young leaders at a time when it is also struggling to stay relevant nationally in the face of an aggressive Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) .
At one point, a rapprochement looked distant with Gehlot launching a personal attack on Pilot , but Monday’s meeting changed all that.
The meeting, which came four days ahead of the beginning of a crucial assembly session in the state, took place for over two hours after noon at the 12, Tughlaq Road residence of Gandhi, a leader from the Pilot camp familiar with the details told HT, requesting anonymity. He also confirmed the presence of Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
“The Gandhis did save the day for the Gehlot government,” the person quoted above said, confirming a peaceful resolution. “They [the Congress leadership] assured Pilot that the issues he had would be looked into,” he said.
“The Congress leadership appreciated that Pilot did not respond to utterances by the chief minister and other leaders owing allegiance to him. All issues that his supporters raised will also be looked into,” said the leader. “Pilot also stressed that the grievances of his people should be addressed, they should get respect and their work should get done and he categorically stated that he does not want any post.”
Later in the day, Pilot said “we raised issues of principles before the Congress leadership, and welcome their assurance of a time-bound redressal of our grievances”. Asserting that he is not after any post and that the party can take back any position given to him, Pilot told the media that he thought certain issues had to be raised for the benefit of the party.
“While a lot of unparliamentarily words were used, I have chosen to maintain the dignity of the discourse,” Pilot told HT. He also said he was set to head back for Jaipur on Tuesday.
Pilot has given up his claim to chief ministership, a second Congress leader HT spoke to said, though there was no word on this from the former deputy chief minister’s team.
It was the first time that Gandhi met Pilot since the now-dismissed deputy chief minister left Jaipur on July 12. Since then, he has camped at various places in the national capital region — from Faridabad to Manesar — with the Congress legislators backing him. The state Congress unit and Pilot and his team have also been locked in a legal battle over the speaker’s powers in initiating disqualification proceedings against them.
It was not immediately clear whether Pilot will be given a responsibility at the central level as part of the peace formula.
Pilot and the legislators supporting him are expected to attend the crucial assembly session beginning August 14. Confident of its numbers, the Gehlot government was expected to take a floor test in the House. But, in view of the latest developments, it is not sure if that will be required.
On Monday, seven-time legislator Bhanwarlal Sharma, a key member of the Pilot camp who was suspended by the Congress, met Gehlot to assure him of his support.
“It [the session] is on the 14th; so there is time left. We will be making an announcement soon,” said another leader from the Pilot camp.
The second Congress leader said it was Pilot who sought a meeting with the central leadership. This leader said Pilot has been speaking to senior leaders Ahmad Patel and Venugopal.
Asked if Rajasthan will be out of bounds for Pilot, another party functionary said: “We are not aware of any promise given to him by Rahul Gandhi. What transpired between them at the personal level is not known to us.”
A section in the Congress believes Pilot had a rethink because of a difference of opinion within his group; some of them were worried that Pilot did not have the numbers to destabilise Gehlot’s government.
Rajasthan-based political analyst Narayan Bareth said the developments are lesson for the Congress that it should promote only those who have risen through the ranks. “Pilot should also realise that the organisation and its ideology are more important than any post,” he said.
The crisis in Rajasthan surfaced after Pilot received a notice from the special operations group of Rajasthan Police on July 10, triggering a revolt that has been in the offing for months. It asked him to record his statement regarding an alleged attempt to topple the Congress government.
Though the Congress said a similar notice was sent to Gehlot, leaders close to Pilot called it a “joke”; for it is the chief minister who is in charge of the home department that oversees the police force. Pilot’s camp said the notice was yet another move to “humiliate” the deputy chief minister and “undermine” his authority.
The Congress removed Pilot as the deputy chief minister and state Congress president on July 14 and two of his supporters, including Sharma, were suspended from the party.
Gehlot alleged that the Centre’s ruling BJP was trying to topple his government and his camp also said the BJP was helping Pilot. While the BJP repeatedly blamed the Congress’s internal rift for the Rajasthan crisis, Pilot said publicly that he would not join the BJP.
As the spotlight turned to the numbers amidst possibilities of a floor test, the Gehlot camp appeared to have the support of 101 legislators (though this did not include speaker CP Joshi) in the 200-member assembly. Pilot had the backing of 18 other Congress MLAs and three independents. Bhanwarlal Meghwal, one Congress MLA said to be close to Pilot, is indisposed. The BJP and its ally Rashtriya Loktrantrik Party have 75 seats.
On the day the Rajasthan crisis appeared to have been resolved, state BJP president Satish Poonia sharpened his attack on Gehlot, asking him to quit on moral grounds.
“I had said on day one that it is the infighting of the Congress and they kept running from one place to another. There should be an audit of it in ‘janta ki adalat’,” Poonia told reporters at the party office in Jaipur, referring to allegations that his party was involved in the mutiny.
“In this entire episode, the one who is actually a villain tried to become a hero. Ashok Gehlot should quit as the chief minister on moral grounds as it would lead to the solution of a lot of problems.”
(with inputs from HTC in Jaipur)