Congress: Tumult in Rajasthan as Pilot-Gehlot tussle hits breaking point

Long-standing differences between Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his deputy Sachin Pilot reached breaking point on Sunday, threatening the stability of the Congress government in the state. A summons by the Rajasthan special operations group served to Pilot on Friday, seeking to record his statement in the alleged horse-trading case lodged ahead of the Rajya Sabha election last month, is said to have been the last straw.

Soon after the SOG notice was pasted outside his official residence in Jaipur on Friday, Pilot headed for Delhi in a huff with some of his close aides, the speculated numbers ranging from five to 19 MLAs. There is buzz that he has told the party leadership that he will move out with his MLAs and launch a regional outfit.

The MLAs’ disappearance sent the Gehlot camp into a huddle—the CM met his ministers on Saturday night and called for a meeting of the Congress Legislature Party (all elected MLAs) at 10.30 am on Monday at his official residence. This meeting is expected to shine light on the actual numbers in the Gehlot camp. Congress President Sonia Gandhi despatched senior party leaders to Jaipur to be a part of this meeting and to speak to the MLAs directly.

Late in the night, Pilot said he will not attend the meeting, and claimed that he had the support of more than 30 MLAs, leaving the Gehlot-led government in the state in a minority.

Meanwhile, speculation was rife that Pilot and several MLAs close to him were lodged in resorts in Manesar and Gurugram. Three MLAs—Rohit Bohra, Danish Abrar and Chetan Dudi-—who were said to have left with Pilot and returned to Jaipur late in the evening, were paraded before the media in Jaipur as they repeatedly assured the gathering that they would be with the party “till the last breath”.

Pilot reportedly could not be reached by his own party leadership after he failed to get an audience with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and former chief Rahul Gandhi. Party sources said he had a conversation with Sonia’s close aide Ahmed Patel, and conveyed his strong displeasure at the turn of events in Rajasthan, particularly the SOG’s summons. Pilot alleged that Gehlot, who held the home department portfolio in the state, had engineered the move to humiliate him and that it was unprecedented for a deputy CM to have to appear in a poaching case against his own party. In defence, the Gehlot camp produced similar SOG summons issued to the CM as well as the chief party whip.

Sources said Pilot recalled in his chat with Patel his limited role in governance in Rajasthan with Gehlot “curtailing funds from departments under his charge”.

There was also speculation that Pilot was in talks with the BJP to pull off a coup on the lines of the one in Madhya Pradesh in March, which led to the fall of the Kamal Nath government.

The Congress has 107 MLAs in the 200-member assembly and has the support of 12 independents as well as members of RLD, CPI(M) and Bharatiya Tribal Party. Most of the independents are Gehlot loyalists. The BJP has 72 MLAs and enjoys the support of three MLAs of Rashtriya Loktantrik Party.

Avinash Pande, the Congress general secretary in charge of Rajasthan, maintained that the government in Rajasthan was stable and would complete its full term.

Even if Pilot exits the Congress and manages to topple the government, the BJP has a problem of plenty in Rajasthan for the post of CM: Vasundhara Raje is vying for it along with Om Mathur, Bhupendra Yadav, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and Arjun Ram Meghwal. It would be far more difficult for Pilot to make a place for himself in the state while with the BJP unless he gets a cabinet berth at the Centre and moves out of state politics.

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