Rift rocks Cong Rajasthan govt

In a spot: Ashok Gehlot
Crisis mounts as Pilot says he will skip urgent legislature party meeting

The Congress was on Sunday night scrambling to save its government in Rajasthan, with or without Sachin Pilot, after the deputy chief minister went incommunicado and his media adviser released a statement saying he would not attend an urgent legislature party meeting scheduled on Monday.

Asked whether Pilot was with the BJP or the Congress, many Congress leaders said they were not sure while others said they hoped good sense would prevent him from falling into the Modi-Shah trap. But he was not responding to Congress leaders’ calls, sources said.

While differences between chief minister Ashok Gehlot and his deputy have kept the government under pressure throughout, the latest eruption was triggered by a notice Rajasthan police’s Special Operations Group (SOG) had sent Pilot.

The notice came in connection with a complaint about alleged attempts to buy Congress MLAs and destabilise the government. Pilot flew into a rage and conveyed to the high command that this was not acceptable.

Gehlot said there was a threat to his government from the BJP and explained that the SOG had sent notices to him and several independent MLAs as well. This, he said, wasn’t a move directed against Pilot. The SOG was following normal investigative procedures. The chief minister told a news conference on Saturday that the BJP was offering Rs 15 crore to each MLA.

It is on a complaint from the Congress that the investigation was started, and two persons linked to the BJP were arrested.

While Congress leaders through the day dismissed any threat to the government, the statement released by Pilot’s media adviser dramatically changed the script at night, claiming the Gehlot government was in a minority and that 30 MLAs were supporting the deputy chief minister. He also said Pilot would not attend a legislature party meeting scheduled on Monday to discuss the crisis.

Congress leaders, however, said Pilot had kept a window open by not making the statement himself.

Gehlot held a meeting of MLAs at his residence later in the night. Although the exact number of MLAs who attended the meeting was not known, there were notable absentees. A team of central observers sent by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, including general secretary-in-charge Avinash Pandey, Randeep Surjewala and Ajay Maken, also visited Gehlot’s residence and decided to move the MLAs to safe custody.

Sources said the high command had adopted a tough stance, refusing to bow to Pilot’s blackmail, following the revelation that recordings by state agencies suggest he played a negative role during the just-concluded Rajya Sabha election and was hostile towards the chief minister. Pilot may have realised he was stuck in a corner and that Gehlot had established an upper hand in their tug-of-war, leaving him looking like a suspect.

Congress sources said that while they hoped Pilot would review his position, the government would not fall even if 30 MLAs resigned. The Congress has 107 MLAs and the support of 18 others. The majority mark in the House of 200 is 101. If 30 MLAs resign, the majority mark will be reduced to 86. The Congress, with the 18 independents, would still have 95. The government will be under threat only if the Independents also cross over, they said.

The self-induced turmoil created opportunities for outsiders to fish in troubled waters. Jyotiraditya Scindia, who had recently crossed over to the BJP from the Congress, waded into the internal matter of the Congress with a mischievous tweet.

“Sad to see my erstwhile colleague, Sachin Pilot too, being sidelined and persecuted by Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. Shows that talent and capability find little credence in the Congress,” he wrote.

Scindia has added fuel to the fire by raising the issue of generational conflict in the Congress and alleging lack of respect for talent.

A senior leader countered him on condition of anonymity: “So, every talented young man should be made chief minister straightaway? Is that the logic? Scindia was made a central minister, was in Rahul’s core team, in the highest body CWC, and he was still dissatisfied. These people should think of the millions of party workers and leaders who struggle at the grassroots for decades without getting any reward.”

But within the party, too, there are concerns about crisis management. Kapil Sibal tweeted: “Worried for our party. Will we wake up only after the horses have bolted from our stables?”

Although his “worry” was influenced by the unsubstantiated electronic and social media reports that said Pilot was in touch with Amit Shah to join the BJP on Monday with 25 Congress MLAs, other leaders said crisis management became impossible if two leaders refused to harmonise their differences in the interests of the party.

“If someone is hell bent on committing suicide, how many times can others intervene to foil the attempts?” another senior leader said, asking whether Gehlot and Pilot were not mature enough to know they should ensure that the Congress’s most important government doesn’t collapse during this period of crisis.


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