Pilot camp is so much hand in glove with the BJP that I doubt they’d come back: Ashok Gehlot

Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot says any decision taken by the high command on Sachin Pilot and other rebel MLAs or any other issue will be followed.
Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot outside Hotel Fairmont in Jaipur, Rajasthan on Wednesday.(HT Photo)
Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot outside Hotel Fairmont in Jaipur, Rajasthan on Wednesday.(HT Photo)
Updated on Jul 20, 2020 07:44 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By Vinod Sharma

Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot on Monday told reporters that his former deputy Sachin Pilot was acting on behalf of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and was given money, “backed by corporate houses from Mumbai”, to bring down the Rajasthan government. He said he was an elected CM, “not a vegetable-seller”, indicating that he was aware of the alleged controversy for months. Hours before making these comments, he spoke to Vinod Sharma about the thinking in the party, the tapes alleging a BJP hand in the alleged move to topple the government, and the position in the state assembly. Edited excerpts:

Are you on the same page as the party high command on Sachin Pilot -- you have accused him of a conspiracy to dislodge your government, but the central leadership seems willing to call a truce if he retraces his steps?

I’ve always followed the directions of the high command, not just on this issue but on each and every issue. Regarding this matter, all directions will be followed. The ideology and thinking of leaders of my generation has always been to make our party strong. (But a) few young people think their personal interests are bigger than those of the party; that they are superior to the high command. That’s why problems of such kind occur. I believe the party should strictly follow whatever the high command decides for the betterment of the country and the party.

Also read| ‘Who knew person with such innocent face will…’: CM Gehlot roasts Sachin Pilot

You have furnished recorded tapes to prove his supporters’ attempts to topple your government. When did you come to know about it? What is the high command’s view on that?

I want to clarify that we have not furnished any tape. These audio clips had already gone viral on social media. We also got it on social media. The person who looks after our media sent it to the media to expose the lies of the BJP and its allies. But I know that they had been planning to topple the government for at least the last six months. That’s why at the time of Rajya Sabha elections we had to move [MLAs] to a hotel for 10 days. Had we not done so at that time, what’s happening today would have then happened. Few of them (rebels) had a plan to leave at 2am on June 10 - the day before the death anniversary of late Rajesh Pilot. The rest of them were planning to leave after paying tributes to him at Dausa. I got this information at midnight. I talked to district collectors, spoke to my MLAs and asked them to come to Jaipur. I did not feel good putting up our legislators at a hotel. It was done to save democracy and our government. Their plan ended in failure.

ALSO WATCH | ‘With an innocent face...’: CM Ashok Gehlot’s fresh attack on Sachin Pilot

 

Several young Congress leaders have expressed support for Pilot. Why is Gen-X feeling restive? Is it that they don’t see any future in the Congress?

People who talk of a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ should stop dreaming. Every Congress person who has faith in the party’s leadership and its ideology and policies -- and who can work giving priority to the party rather than self-interests – has a bright future in the Congress. Those who rise from frontal organisations such as the NSUI {National Students’ Union of India) , Youth Congress, Seva Dal, Mahila Congress and have worked at grassroots level cannot feel restive. They know if they’re working hard, with honesty and diligence, the party will look after them; that ample opportunities will come their way. I’m an example of it. I worked in NSUI, was elected as an MP at the age of 28 and became a minister when I was 29. I was PCC {Pradesh Congress Committee} president three times, a central minister three times, and also a party general secretary three times. Now I’m chief minister for the third time with the support and blessings of the people. I want to tell our young leaders that we, too, got chances when we were young but we never thought of disrespecting our seniors and the party leadership. We never promoted groupism or factionalism. I was already three-time president of the state unit when I became CM the first time. Young leaders should have a little patience. The party will give them many opportunities to take their political careers forward.

Also read: Check authenticity first: Shekhawat after police notice over audio clips

Have Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi or Priyanka Gandhi Vadra spoken to you on the prevailing crisis? They appear keen on retaining Pilot in the party -- if that happens, will you restore his position in your government?

I’m in touch with the leadership. Any decision taken by the high command in this or any other issue will be followed. But I’d like to add that they (Pilot camp) are so much hand in glove with the BJP that I doubt that they’d come back. In the forthcoming days, you will get to see that. They’re sitting in a BJP-ruled state and enjoying their hospitality. The BJP government [in Haryana] is providing them police protection; its leaders are giving statements in their favour. What more evidence does one need to see that they’re in alliance with the BJP.

The Pilot camp alleges that your desire to promote your son Vaibhav (who lost from Jodhpur to the BJP’s Gajendra Singh Shekhawat in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections) prompted you to marginalise your deputy CM and his supporters.

That’s totally absurd. I never placed my own or my son’s interests above the party. Shekhawat is a big face in the Rajasthan BJP. They wanted to make him the state BJP president, but it didn’t happen because of their internal conflict. He’s very close to Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and the RSS {Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh}. Vaibhav’s name came up because there was widespread sentiment that only he could give Shekhawat a good fight in Jodhpur. Had he not fought, it would’ve sent out the wrong message that the Congress wasn’t giving the BJP a tough fight in the CM’s home district. I have never promoted Vaibhav in politics. During the Youth Congress elections, he ran a membership drive and wanted to fight elections. I discouraged him because I was the CM then. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the AICC committee for ticket distribution recommended Vaibhav’s name for the Tonk-Sawai Madhopur seat. I was again the CM and I suggested that Namo Narain Meena, who was a central minister at the time, had the first right to fight from there. He later contested and won the seat. In 2019, Vaibhav was considered for two-three safer seats where the result could have been different. But the party fielded him from Jodhpur to send a message.

Also read: In Gehlot vs Pilot, Congress backs regional leadership

Is it true that Rahul Gandhi brokered a pact in 2018 that Pilot would succeed you as CM before the assembly’s term ends in 2023?

In my whole political career, I’ve never heard the leadership promising a post to any leader in future. It was the Pilot lobby’s campaign for the last five years that the high command has promised them the CM’s office. That’s how they promoted groupism and put self-interest above the party’s interest. They’re totally exposed now. He (Pilot) is saying so to gain sympathy and to tarnish the leadership’s image.

Can you give the exact number of legislators whose support you have in the assembly?

You’ll get to know the exact number when we win the floor test by a thumping majority. This time, every MLA will hear the voice of his conscience and vote. Rajasthan is facing a major crisis of lives and livelihood. In such adverse times, our government has done commendable work. I’ve done 21 hours of video conferencing with all MLAs and MPs representing the state. We got positive feedback across party lines. It’s unfortunate that amid the coronavirus pandemic, BJP is doing horse-trading and trying to topple our government as they did in Madhya Pradesh. People are not supporting them in MP and the people will not support them in Rajasthan.

How optimistic are you of sustaining in power for the remaining tenure of the assembly?

We will definitely complete our tenure. We have already started preparing for the 2023 polls which I am sure we will win.

What is your reaction to the BJP ally, Hanuman Beniwal’s claim that you were helped by Vasundhara Raje in preventing desertions of some Jat legislators?

I have never compromised with my party’s ideology. To say that I’m getting support from someone (in BJP) is totally false. Everyone knows about Beniwal’s habit of saying anything about anyone. He has been speaking against Vasundhara Raje for the last 15 years; he’s doing so now to get the blessings of the Modi-Shah duo.

How strong is your evidence against Shekhawat in the alleged plot to topple your regime? He has denied playing any role and has questioned the genuineness of the tapes.

Anyone who commits a crime does not accept it and tends to deny. As for evidence against Shekhawat or others, including Bhanwar Lal Sharma, who earlier attempted to topple five governments – it’ll be better to ask the SOG {special operations group of Rajasthan Police} or other investigating agencies. The matter is under probe. It’s not appropriate for me to comment at this stage. I believe that truth will prevail.

(With inputs from Aurangzeb Naqshbandi)

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Sunday, October 24, 2021