Congress ready for a ‘face saver’ for Pilot, he keeps them on the edge
Sachin Pilot, sacked as deputy chief minister and the state unit chief for leading a rebellion against the Ashok Gehlot government, hasn’t taken up the Congress on its offer to head back to Jaipur along with the other rebel lawmakers sequestered in a Gurugram on the outskirts of national capital Delhi.
On Wednesday, the Congress initiated the process to eject Sachin Pilot and the 18 rebel lawmakers from the assembly for skipping a party meet in Jaipur but followed up the many darts that Ashok Gehlot hurled at him with an offer.
Pilot had to make contact with the party leadership, pull out his group of legislators from a Gurugram hotel and head back home, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala told reporters. Then, Pilot would be given opportunities to raise his grievances with the party’s large-hearted leadership who would look at how best to resolve them, he said.
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Surjewala’s message signalled that it was for Sachin Pilot to make the first conciliatory move if he indeed intended to stay in the Congress, and not switch sides. But Surjewala had also made it clear that the party didn’t buy the new narrative floated by his camp that he never intended to jump ship or hadn’t been working with the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The measured approach - a contrast to acerbic statements by Ashok Gehlot -- were driven by an assessment in the party headquarters in New Delhi that Congress leaders should not do anything to precipitate the matter.
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi is learnt to have told the party’s central observers camping in Jaipur that they should leave a window open for Pilot’s honourable stay in the party.
A Congress leader suggested that Sachin Pilot’s reluctance to grab the offer could stem from the fact that any ‘face saver’ being contemplated by the party is unlikely to include any role of significance in Rajasthan, the state where Pilot is heavily invested.
His camp had earlier hinted at plans to launch a regional front if the Congress didn’t accommodate his concerns around rival Ashok Gehlot who, Pilot had alleged, had been humiliating him and creating hurdles. Pilot, who had at one point expected 30 legislators to stand with him, subsequently found only 18 legislators willing to put their future in the party at stake.
This depleted strength of his camp vastly reduced his ability to negotiate with the Congress or the BJP. The Congress also moved faster than his camp had estimated, sacking him and two ministers from the government, and then purging the state unit of his supporters. But it is the Congress complaint to the assembly to disqualify Team Sachin Pilot as MLAs that could hurt him the most.
The BJP, which at one point this week believed the Gehlot government was nearing its end, appears to have stepped back for the moment. The BJP’s state leadership has decided to switch back into the wait-and-watch mode, rather than be seen to be actively pulling down the Gehlot government.
A Congress leader in Delhi said Sachin Pilot would want to explore his options outside before driving back to Jaipur, given that the return may not really be on his terms. Gehlot’s continuation in the chief minister’s chair does make it a little difficult for him to return, he said.