Rajasthan govt in crisis as Sachin Pilot leads rebels out
The Congress government in Rajasthan stared at a political crisis on Sunday with a number of its legislators loyal to deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot camping in the National Capital Region amidst apprehensions over a possible split in its ranks.
The Congress called a meeting of all its Rajasthan legislators on Monday and rushed two central observers – Randeep Singh Surjewala and Ajay Maken – to state capital Jaipur in a bid to iron out differences between Pilot and chief minister Ashok Gehlot, who have differed on a number of issues since the formation of the party’s government in 2018.
In a late-night statement released on WhatsApp, Pilot’s camp said the deputy chief minister has the backing of about 30 legislators in the 200-member assembly. “The Ashok Gehlot government is in minority after over 30 Congress and some independent MLAs have pledged their support to Sachin Pilot,” said the statement released by Pilot’s media office.
But the Gehlot camp appeared confident about the government’s stability. A large number of Congress and other legislators supporting the government met the chief minister at his residence amid hectic parleys. “There is no danger to the government. All our MLAs are with us,” said Congress legislator Ashok Chandana, who is considered close to Gehlot.
Separately, five Congress lawmakers considered close to Pilot held a press conference at the chief minister’s residence in Jaipur, saying they are soldiers of the Congress even as they ruled out the possibility of leaving the party.
“We have full faith in the leadership of CM Ashok Gehlot. Our identity is because of the party and we are committed to it,” said Congress legislator Chetan Singh Choudhary, one of the five MLAs.
He was accompanied by Danish Abrar, Rohit Bohra, Pratap Singh Khachariywas (who is also the transport minister) and Harish Choudhary. “We are soldiers of the Congress party and we had gone to Delhi for personal issues,” Abrar said.
In the 200-member assembly, the Congress has the support of 125 MLAs, including 107 of its own legislators. The party has the backing of 13 independents and five from other parties. The majority mark is 101. The BJP has 72 legislators and has the support of three of Hanuman Beniwal’s Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RPL).
Pilot’s supporters said he has raised issues against the functioning of Gehlot over the past fortnight with the party’s state in-charge and general secretary, Avinash Pande, Congress organisation secretary KC Venugopal and senior Congress leader Ahmad Patel in Delhi.“His concerns were not addressed,” said a party leader considered close to Pilot.
Another Congress functionary familiar with the developments said Surjewala and Maken have been given the mandate to bring about a “lasting truce” between Gehlot and Pilot, who is also the Rajasthan Congress president.
“Worried for our party. Will we wake up only after the horses have bolted from our stables?” former Union minister Kapil Sibal tweeted.
His views were echoed by the Congress’s Rajya Sabha member, Vivek Tankha. “Kapil ji your worry is every party member’s concern. It’s time to strengthen the party to fight forces, who have only 1 agenda - weaken Congress and our democratic values and institutions,” he said on Twitter.
Senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Jyotiraditya Scindia, too, took a swipe at the Congress, saying talent and capability find “little credence” in the party.
“Sad to see my erstwhile colleague Sachin Pilot, too, being sidelined and persecuted by Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot. Shows that talent and capability find little credence in the Congress,” Scindia, who quit the Congress earlier this year, tweeted.
The ongoing crisis erupted after Pilot received a notice from the special operations group (SOG) of Rajasthan police to record his statement regarding the alleged attempt to topple the Congress government in the state. Though the Congress said a similar notice was sent to Gehlot as well, leaders close to Pilot called it a “joke” since the chief minister is also in charge of the home department that oversees the police force. Pilot’s camp said the July 10 notice is yet another move to “humiliate” the deputy chief minister and “undermine” his authority.
Gehlot alleged on Saturday that the BJP is trying to topple his government, a charge vehemently denied by the opposition party.
With Pilot rushing to Delhi on Saturday, some Congress legislators backing him and a few Rajasthan BJP MLAs are said to be staying in a five-star hotel in Manesar on the outskirts of Delhi.
For the Congress, the developments in Rajasthan could be reminiscent of what happened in Madhya Pradesh in March, when 24 legislators owing allegiance to Scindia resigned from the party and the state assembly, reducing chief minister Kamal Nath’s government to a minority. Scindia resigned from the Congress and joined the BJP.
As the Congress numbers in the Madhya Pradesh assembly dwindled, the BJP regained power with Shivraj Singh Chouhan becoming the chief minister for a record fourth time.
Last month, the Congress in Rajasthan had to swing into action just before the Rajya Sabha elections to three seats from the state. At that time too, the ruling party alleged that the BJP was trying to poach its legislators.
At that time, Gehlot himself supervised the efforts to guard the party legislators and the independents supporting his government. While the Congress won two seats, including the one by Venugopal, the BJP bagged one seat in the June 19 polls.
Pilot is under pressure from his supporters to take his ongoing power tussle with Gehlot to a logical conclusion, people familiar with the developments said.
A legislator close to Pilot said the Rajasthan police notice is “actually legitimising the official surveillance” on the deputy chief minister. “This is sheer humiliation and nothing else. Pilot can be called for questioning anytime on one pretext or the other,” said the legislator.
Pilot’s supporters said Gehlot has been undermining his deputy’s authority to the extent of not involving him in the state government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and other important decision-making processes.
They also said Pilot’s views are not being considered in political appointments in corporations and boards. Also, the CM has not held any meeting of the coordination committee set up by Congress president Sonia Gandhi to discuss issues of governance and implementation of manifesto since its constitution in January 2020, they said.
Rajasthan Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Satish Poonia said there is intense infighting in the Congress and chief minister Gehlot is trying to hide his failures by blaming the BJP for trying to topple the government. “If government falls, it would be because of infighting in the Congress. We [the BJP] have nothing to do with it,” he said.
Political analyst Narayan Bareth said it is a big political setback for any political party if a state president rebels. “I think the chief minister has anticipated this situation ...He might be having a Plan B to deal with this, but as of now the Congress in Rajasthan is in turmoil,” he said.