Won’t join BJP: Sachin Pilot; CM Ashok Gehlot says a coup was in works | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Won’t join BJP: Sachin Pilot; CM Ashok Gehlot says a coup was in works

Hindustan Times, New Delhi/Jaipur | ByAurangzeb Naqshbandi, Sachin Saini and Rakesh Goswami
Jul 16, 2020 04:51 AM IST

The Congress said its doors were still open for Pilot, with former party president Rahul Gandhi understood to have told party leaders to leave room for an “honourable stay” in the party. But the Congress laid out a clear set of conditions for Pilot.

The political turmoil within the Rajasthan Congress continued on Wednesday, with chief minister Ashok Gehlot accusing his former deputy Sachin Pilot of being part of a conspiracy to topple the government and asserting that it was political commitment — and not traits such as looking good and speaking fluent English — that mattered in public life.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot talking to media persons outside Hotel Fairmont in Jaipur, Rajasthan on Wednesday.(HT Photo)
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot talking to media persons outside Hotel Fairmont in Jaipur, Rajasthan on Wednesday.(HT Photo)

This sharp attack on Pilot, who was sacked by the Congress as deputy CM and the state unit chief on Tuesday, came hours after the rebel leader said that he remained a Congressman, had not made any disparaging comments against the party and the high command, and would not join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The Congress said its doors were still open for Pilot, with former party president Rahul Gandhi understood to have told party leaders to leave room for an “honourable stay” in the party. But the Congress laid out a clear set of conditions for Pilot — recognise his mistake, stop “conversing” with BJP leaders, get legislators loyal to him to leave the Manesar hotel where they are being “hosted” by Haryana government, communicate directly with Congress leadership rather than through the media, and “return home to Jaipur”.

Also read: 24 hours of twists and turns in Rajasthan political drama

In moves that further highlighted the Congress’s stance, the party on Wednesday dissolved the state, district and block units of the Rajasthan Congress which, so far, had Pilot’s strong imprint.

The Rajasthan assembly, too, sent showcase notices to rebel legislators, based on a Congress petition, accusing them of “anti-party activities” — an initial step in disqualification proceedings — and asked them to respond by July 17.

Speaking to reporters in Jaipur, Gehlot, said that he had “proof” that horse trading was taking place and money was being offered to legislators (to topple the government). In a direct reference to Pilot, the CM said: “With us, you are deputy CM and PCC (state unit chief) and you make deals with [BJP] people. You ask for mobile number and names and are involved in conspiracy and then... give clarification that there was no horse trading. You were part of the conspiracy and what are you clarifying now... Speaking good English or giving byte or being handsome is not everything. What do you have in your heart, what commitment do you have, all this is seen.”

The numbers still remained slightly tenuous for Gehlot, who appeared to have the support of at least 100 members — one short of the majority mark in the 200-member state assembly (though this does not include speaker CP Joshi). The allegiance of one of the two members of the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) remained in flux through the day. Pilot has 18 other Congress MLAs and three independents in his camp.The BJP and its ally Rashtriya Loktrantrik Party have 75 seats. One Congress MLA, Bhanwarlal Meghwal, is indisposed, though he is said to be close to Pilot. If any of the Congress MLAs with Pilot are disqualified, however, it will reduce the strength of the house and increase Gehlot’s majority.

Earlier, in an interview to India Today magazine, published on Wednesday morning, Pilot criticised Gehlot’s governance in Rajasthan, said the CM had “humiliated” him, claimed he had repeatedly raised issues in internal party forums, rejected all allegations of conspiring with the BJP, said that he was still a Congressman and that all he wanted was “dignity and the freedom to work”.

Outlining his grievances with Gehlot, he said: “He did not allow me and my followers the dignity and space to work for Rajasthan’s development. The bureaucrats were asked not to follow my directives, files were not sent to me, Cabinet meetings and Congress Legislature Party meetings had not been held for months. What’s the worth of a position if that doesn’t allow me to fulfil the commitments I made to my people?” He said he had not attended the recent legislative party meeting because his “self respect” was hurt because of the police notice against him, which included sedition charges.

When asked whether he would stay on in the Congress, Pilot said, “Let the feeling sink in. It has not even been 24 hours. I’m still a Congressman. I have to discuss with my followers about my next course of action.” But he categorically said he had not met any BJP leader.

After Gehlot spoke on Wednesday afternoon, strongly rebutting Pilot, Rahul Gandhi called up the central observers and asked them to leave a window open for Pilot’s “honourable stay” in the party, according to a person familiar with the development.

“Rahulji felt that nothing should be done to precipitate the matter further after Pilot insisted that he will not leave the Congress to join the BJP,” he said. It was after this that Randeep Singh Surjewala, the party’s chief spokesperson and a central party observer delegated for Rajasthan, spoke to the media — in remarks which firmly outlined the party’s red lines but were more accommodative than those of Gehlot.

He said that the party had noted Pilot’s statement that he would not go to the BJP. “If you do not want to go to the BJP, stop accepting the hospitality of the BJP immediately,” Surjewala said, claiming that the rebel legislators were under the security net provided by the BJP government in Haryana. “Come back and you can talk to the leadership about all the issues that you have directly, not through the media.”

Asked about his comments, and whether they were reconciliatory, Surjewala said, “Whatever I said was with the concurrence, consent and approval of the Congress leadership, the chief minister and the party.”

Reacting to Gehlot’s statement on horse-trading, a former minister in his Cabinet and a Pilot loyalist, Ramesh Meena, said: “People are disgruntled from his working and dominating bureaucracy across the state. Our demands and issues were not addressed. The CM made statements on horse trading and luring of MLAs, I want to ask him – how much was paid to us when we joined Congress from BSP?

The Rajasthan BJP, which is waiting and watching the events unfold, claimed that the Gehlot government was in a minority but said it will not seek a floor test just yet. The leader of opposition in the assembly, Gulab Chand Kataria, said it was for the Congress government or the rebel MLAs who are supporting former deputy CM Sachin Pilot to do so.

He also questioned the notices issued by the assembly speaker to the 19 MLAs, contending that the assembly secretariat had “no locus standi” in the matter.

The Rajasthan Assembly sent notices to the MLAs, including Pilot, based on a petition of chief whip Mahesh Joshi to Speaker CP Joshi. The notices were sent through WhatsApp, email and even pasted outside their houses late Tuesday night. The MLAs have been asked to respond by 1pm on Friday.

“The Assembly will take a legal view of the future course depending upon the replies,” said Joshi.

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