Pilot sticks to guns even as Rahul, Priyanka call up

JAIPUR/NEW DELHI: The political crisis in Rajasthan showed no signs of abating with CM Ashok Gehlot holding a show of strength by convening a meeting of party legislators and later placing them in a resort and the camp of his rebellious deputy Sachin Pilot challenging the CM’s claim to numbers while rejecting reports that a compromise was being worked out as being “too little, too late”.
While a team of senior Congress leaders sent to Jaipur appealed to Pilot to call off his rebellion, he made it clear that the overtures were insufficient and measures such as a rejig of portfolios and assurances on his tenure as state chief were not enough. Efforts of Congress leaders, including Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra who spoke to Pilot and sought to persuade him to return to Jaipur, were met with a similar response with the deputy CM not ready to settle merely for assurance of grievance redressal and insisting on a stature on par with Gehlot.
The Gehlot camp appeared to be struggling to make up the numbers with at least 20 MLAs (Pilot included) of the 107 party legislators staying away from the Congress legislature party meeting despite the party issuing a whip to be present. By Monday evening, they appeared to concede that Pilot’s claim of having the support of 25 MLAs could not be bereft of substance, and played down the absence of MLAs by saying that hose missing had sought exemption.
State transport minister Pratap Singh Khachariyawas claimed that there were 109 MLAs at the CLP meeting. They included 10 Independents and one CPM MLA, Balwan Poonia, who was suspended by his party for voting for Congress in the recent Rajya Sabha elections.
Late night, a video was uploaded on Pilot’s official WhatsApp group showing around 16-17 MLAs, who skipped the CLP meeting, seated together. Sources close to Pilot said the video was from a hotel in Manesar.
The CM has called another meeting of the Congress legislature party on Tuesday and the party has threatened to take action against MLAs who don’t turn up.
The suspense about the outcome of the high-stake power tussle is likely to continue because of the uncertainty about any collaboration between Pilot and BJP. While income tax raids on three businessmen perceived to be close to Gehlot were interpreted by many in political circles as a manoeuvre to help the disgruntled deputy CM and attracted allegations from Congress. BJP refrained from revealing its cards.
Congress circles are convinced that Pilot is acting in tandem with BJP while the saffron party is glad over the latest embarrassment to the Congress leadership. Late on Sunday evening, there was a strong likelihood of a meeting between party chief J P Nadda and Pilot. While the meeting did not happen on Monday, speculation about a possible deal did not die with many saying the two sides could be finetuning the details of a likely deal.
Sources in Congress highlighted the presence of a majority of party MLAs at the meeting convened by Gehlot as proof that Pilot had failed to enlist enough support, expressing confidence that the latter would sue for peace sooner than later.
Earlier, Congress moved swiftly to herd party MLAs by moving them to a resort. Ramila Khadiya, MLA from Kushalgarh in Banswara, who was mentioned in the SOG FIR as the one who was allegedly being contacted by BJP to switch loyalties, was brought to Jaipur in a chopper.
The nub of the issue remains the state police FIR and a special investigation squad that brings Pilot in its ambit over allegations of a BJP plot to topple the government and the leader’s view that he is being denied the political space he “ceded” to Gehlot. Arguing that the CM now lacks numbers and has not been able to show a head count or a list of signatures in his support, MLAs close to Pilot on Monday evening demanded a change of leadership.
Some senior leaders felt Gehlot had the advantage of corralling a large number of MLAs and Pilot, though having support, did not have enough to oust the CM. But there remain doubts over the loyalty of Independents currently pledged to Gehlot and the Pilot camp has challenged the CM’s numbers. The two-member Bhartiya Tribal Party has also withdrawn support.
Pilot continued to deny that he had plans to join BJP. There were other elements of drama too with the day beginning with income tax searches on two Gehlot aides — PCC vice-president and jeweller Rajiv Arora and Dharmendra Singh Rathore — in Jaipur. A luxury hotel where the Gehlot loyalist MLAs were shifted later in the day was searched by the ED for alleged FEMA violations, sources said. Gehlot’s son Vaibhav’s partner R K Sharma is said to have a stake in the hotel. Congress, on the other hand, pulled down posters of Pilot from the PCC headquarters.
Much would depend on how many of the 13 Independent MLAs stay loyal to Gehlot. On Saturday, Congress turned away three Independents — Suresh Tak, Om Praksh Hudla and Khusveer Singh — saying it did not need their support as they were allegedly involved in toppling the Gehlot government.
In some good news for Gehlot, CPM, which has two MLAs, extended support to the Congress government. Hitting out at Pilot without taking his name, CPM state secretary Amra Ram said, “The CPM state secretariat has expressed surprise how Congress state president and other senior leaders have revolted and are joining hands with BJP-RSS.”

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