Congress ejects Pilot from power; CM Gehlot still in Rajasthan cockpit
As the intra-Congress battle took a decisive turn, the BJP — which had, so far, claimed to be just “watching the developments” and blamed it on the Gandhi family — indicated that its doors were open for Pilot, and claimed that Gehlot’s government had lost its majority.Updated: Jul 15, 2020 04:42 IST
Responding to Sachin Pilot’s rebellion against the Ashok Gehlot government in Rajasthan, the Congress on Tuesday dismissed Pilot as deputy chief minister, sacked him as the state unit president of the party, removed two of his loyalists from the cabinet, accused his camp of “conspiring” with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to destabilise the government, and contended that its government has numbers.
Soon after the decision, Pilot — who has maintained a studied silence on the issue — tweeted in Hindi: “Truth can be harassed, but not defeated.” Later in the evening, he thanked people who expressed their support to him.
While Pilot — who has also served as a Congress member of Parliament and a Union minister, and was widely perceived as a rising star of the party with a national future — has not commented about his future plans, observers saw Tuesday’s developments as marking the end of his association with the Congress.Officially, he has neither been expelled nor has he formally quit the primary membership of the party. Coming in the wake of developments in Madhya Pradesh earlier this year, where Jyotiraditya Scindia left the party, senior Congress figures expressed regret at the possible exit of another young leader.
Pilot, 42, is likely to set up his own regional party, according to a person familiar with his thinking.
As the intra-Congress battle took a decisive turn, the BJP — which had, so far, claimed to be just “watching the developments” and blamed it on the Gandhi family — indicated that its doors were open for Pilot, and claimed that Gehlot’s government had lost its majority.
The Congress’s decision to sack Pilot came in the backdrop of its assessment that the arithmetic in the Rajasthan assembly favours Gehlot — though party leaders acknowledge privately that there will now be questions over the “stability” of the government and the situation will remain fragile.
On Tuesday, 101 legislators — in an assembly of 200 — attended the Congress legislative party meeting at the Fairmont hotel on the outskirts of Jaipur, which included 10 independent legislators and two from Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) and one from the Communist Party of India (Marxist); the other CPIM legislator was unwell. However, in the afternoon, the two BTP legislators left the hotel, and went home, saying they would take a call on supporting a political party at an “appropriate” time.
Pilot’s camp claimed to have the support of 22 legislators, including three independents, also said that six other legislators would join it soon, and rejected Gehlot’s claims of being in a majority. Two of the legislators in the Pilot camp, Ramesh Meena and Vishwendra Singh, who were both sacked as ministers, issued a statement saying that they were with Pilot and Gehlot government was in minority.
The dramatic decision came on a day when the Congress held a second legislative party meeting in as many days — which Pilot and legislators loyal to him, once again, did not attend.
A Congress leader familiar with the developments said that senior party leaders reached out to Pilot again, and conveyed to him that if he did not want to attend the meeting, he should address the media in Delhi, clarify that he was a “loyal soldier” of the Congress, that he would not do anything that would bring down the government in Rajasthan. “But Pilot turned this offer and insisted on his demand for immediate removal of Gehlot as the chief minister,” the leader said.
Despite repeated attempts, Pilot did not respond to questions about the Congress’s accusations and the chain of events put forth by it.
A leader close to Pilot, however, dismissed the claim that the party was responsive, and said that the former deputy CM had consistently expressed his concerns to the party’s top leadership in the past year and a half. Pilot’s camp has been resentful of what they see as Gehlot’s dominance and attempt to marginalise the former deputy CM, including by implicating him in a case regarding the destabilisation of the government.
Randeep Singh Surjewala, the party’s chief spokesperson and one of the party’s central observers sent to the state, formally made the announcement. He said Pilot had enjoyed the “blessings” of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and was given political power at a young age, and alleged that despite this, he and other ministers were trying to topple the state government as part of a “BJP conspiracy”. “This cannot be acceptable to any political party. Therefore, the Congress took the decision with a heavy heart,” he said.
He declared that state’s education minister, Govind Singh Dotasara, would be the new Rajasthan Congress president.
Soon after, CM Gehlot met state governor Kalraj Mishra and apprised him of the dismissal of the three ministers. Gehlot categorically blamed the BJP. “The party high command was compelled to take the decision [to sack Sachin Pilot] because for a long time, the BJP was conspiring and resorting to horse-trading.”
He claimed that it was not Pilot, but the BJP, which was “managing everything”. Pilot is scheduled to address reporters on Wednesday at 10am.
The BJP categorically rejected the accusation of conspiring to destabilise the government, with senior leader and MP, Om Mathur, saying, “Dear Ashok Gehlot, closing your eyes does not make the sun disappear. There is weakness in the structure of your house, and you are blaming the BJP national leadership for this.”
However, Mathur, who is also from Rajasthan, opened the party’s doors for Pilot. “Our doors are open for Sachin Pilot. Anyone who wishes to join the party and adapt to the ideals of the party, they are welcome,” he said.
The party’s central leaders were circumspect.
According to a person familiar with the party’s thinking in Delhi, BJP general secretary Anil Jain and Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan have been at the helm of tracking developments in the state. A second leader said that it would only be natural if the party was in touch with Pilot, for he would not have gone so far in his battle with the Congress without signals.
A third party leader, when asked about the speculation that the BJP could support Pilot if he floats his own party, said the BJP will watch from the sidelines till the time it becomes clear that the Gehlot faction does not have the required numbers to stay in power.
But even as the permutations and combinations of the political alignment in Rajasthan were being worked out, observers said that the big takeaway from Tuesday’s development was the exit of yet another young leader from the Congress, which is in the middle of a deep political crisis after losing two Lok Sabha elections.
Mumbai-based political analyst Abhay Deshpande said young leaders are restive and there is a trust deficit between them and the leadership. “One the aspirational leadership doesn’t see its future in the party and also don’t see the future of the party. They have lost hope and lack confidence in the leadership which has become unpredictable in the recent past,” he said.