CM talks peace a day after truce; Pilot back in Jaipur
At a Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting in Jaisalmer, a section of leaders aired their opposition to the move. Gehlot and senior MLAs had to pacify them.Updated: Aug 12, 2020 00:48 IST
A day after the Congress high command brokered a peace deal, Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot struck a reconciliatory note and reached out to dissident legislators, but several MLAs loyal to him voiced their displeasure over the return of the rebels at a party meeting.
At a Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting in Jaisalmer, a section of leaders aired their opposition to the move. Gehlot and senior MLAs had to pacify them.
As the political uncertainty appeared to have ended in the state, former deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot, whose rebellion posed a threat to the state government’s stability, returned to Jaipur after a month and stressed that there should be no place for vendetta politics.
The truce between the two leaders, who have differed on a number of key issues since the formation of the Congress government in December 2018, comes days ahead of a crucial assembly session beginning August 14, eliminates any possible threat to the Gehlot dispensation, and bolsters the chief minister politically.
“If any MLA is annoyed with me, then it is my responsibility to address that. I have kept doing this in the past and will do this now also,” Gehlot told reporters before leaving for Jaisalmer, where over 100 legislators (including those from allies) backing him are camping.
His was apparently referring to Pilot and the 18 other Congress legislators who questioned his style of functioning and demanded his ouster.
Gehlot said he did not have any idea about the formula for the return of his former deputy. “High command knows this. He will tell his grievances to the three-member committee formed by the party,” Gehlot said, referring to the panel formed to look into the issues raised by the 42-year-old Pilot and those who stood by him after the now-dismissed deputy chief minister’s meeting with former Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
It was not immediately clear whether Pilot will be given a responsibility at the central level. Congress insiders have ruled out that Pilot will be reinstated as the party’s Rajasthan chief, a post filled immediately after the Congress sacked him following his revolt last month. Leaders in the know have said a formula is being worked out and Gandhi will take a final call.
Gehlot also lauded the legislators who supported him and were kept together for a long period — first at a hotel on the outskirts of Jaipur and then at a Jaisalmer resort. “How can we forget such MLAs? They trusted me and the party high command, and agreed to stay together in hotels for long time. I told them they have created history and I will be their guardian till my last breath,” he said.
He reiterated his charge that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was trying to topple his government and that the party tried to engineer defections in the Congress but failed. Gehlot did not, however, reply to a question on his remarks calling Pilot a “nikamma”, or “good for nothing”.
At the CLP meeting in Jaisalmer at night, a party leader familiar with the developments said that some legislators said the return of “the rebel MLAs, who are making statements against the CM and the government, is not acceptable”.
“If they continue doing the same, there will be protest,” said the MLAs loyal to Gehlot, according to the leader.
Another leader said there was a unanimous demand that none of the dissidents should be given any post in the government or organisation. After that, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, who was present at the CLP meeting, said the dissident MLAs returned without any condition.
Before that, in the evening, Pilot returned to Jaipur with the 18 rebel Congress legislators. He was welcomed by his supporters at the airport. “I have not demanded any post from the party,” Pilot said, a day after his meeting with Gandhi and party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra that appeared to have broken the ice.
There should not be any vendetta politics against the MLAs who raised their grievances against the Congress government in the state, Pilot told reporters at his Jaipur residence.
“I am happy that the party leadership heard our issue — be it related to functioning, development, workers participation, self-respect, etc. The AICC (All India Congress Committee) has constituted a committee, which in a time-bound manner, will address the issues,” he said.
“...I have no personal issues with anyone. I have been state party chief for six-and-a-half years, of which five years were of struggle. And the participation of those who worked hard during this time in government is my responsibility,” he said.
On Monday night, Pilot told the media in Delhi that his side “raised issues of principle before the Congress leadership”. He asserted that he was not after any post and that the party can take back any position given to him.
“While a lot of unparliamentarily words were used, I have chosen to maintain the dignity of the discourse,” Pilot told HT on Monday.
The crisis in Rajasthan surfaced after Pilot received a notice from the special operations group of the 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” him 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 were suspended from the party.
Days before that, Pilot, backed by three independents alongside the 18 Congress MLAs, left the state. They have camped at various places in the National Capital Region — from Faridabad to Manesar.
With Pilot’s return, the Congress will have 107 legislators in the 200-member state assembly, where the simple majority is 101. The Congress also has the support of all 13 independents, with the three from the Pilot camp meeting Gehlot on Tuesday and pledging their support. Five MLAs from allies, too, support the Congress government. The BJP and its ally Rashtriya Loktrantrik Party have 75 seats.
Jaipur-based political commentator Avadhesh Akodia said the truce cannot be considered an end to the turmoil. “What we saw today is just a break; there could be more to come. Gehlot and the MLAs who were in hotels for a month wouldn’t agree to bringing the ‘rebels’ back in the positions they had,” he said.
The BJP once again blamed the Congress’s internal rift for the crisis. “The party that couldn’t have its house in order is blaming the BJP for the mess,” BJP president Satish Poonia said.