Congress MLAs were huddled to a resort near Jaipur on Monday (July 13) after the morning meeting of its legislature party, during which the turning up of at least 100 party legislators served a respite to Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, whose government is now under threat due an open rebellion by his deputy, Sachin Pilot.
The Congress Legislature Party meeting, held at Gehlot’s Jaipur residence, stood witness to a resolution which urged “strong disciplinary action” against any party office-bearer or CLP member who does anything to weaken the government or party. But the resolution stopped short of naming Pilot, who also heads the party’s state unit.
Before the meeting, senior Congress leader Randeep Surjewala also adopted a conciliatory tone, saying that Pilot and other MLAs could still attend the CLP meeting, from which they had distanced themselves.
Sources said that Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former party chief Rahul Gandhi were in touch with Pilot, upset for being denied the Rajasthan chief minister’s post after the December 2018 assembly elections. Besides, seniors leaders like Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Ahmed Patel, P Chidambaram and KC Venugopal are also learned to have spoken with Pilot.
There was no official word on the number of MLAs who attended the meeting at Gehlot’s home, but party leaders claimed 106 legislators were there.
If correct, this staves off the immediate challenge posed by Pilot, who claimed on Sunday night that he has the support of over 30 of 107 Congress MLAs in the 200-member House. But at least seven MLAs, considered close to Pilot, were not spotted at the CM’s house on Monday.
Hours before the CLP meeting, Income Tax officials searched premises in Jaipur said to be linked to local party leaders Rajiv Arora and Dharmendra Rathore, an action critcised by the Congress.
The CLP resolution blamed the BJP for the crisis. On Saturday, CM Gehlot had accused the opposition party of trying to lure away Congress MLAs. The resolution demanded strong disciplinary action against any Congress office bearer or CLP member who “directly or indirectly” acted against the party.
Addressing a press conference before the meeting, AICC spokesperson Randeep Surjewala indicated that Pilot and his supporters were still welcome to attend it. “Doors are open for Sachin Pilot and other MLAs,” he said. He said the party’s top leadership spoke to Pilot several times in the last 72 hours.
Surjewala said differences in a family can be resolved within the family, suggesting that Pilot and other MLAs should come and discuss their grievances at party forums. “When a member of the family gets annoyed, he does not make the family fall but sits with family members and resolves the issue,” he said.
“Doors are open for Sachin Pilot and other MLAs. They will be heard and solutions will be found. This is the discipline of the party,” the AICC spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, asked about the speculations that the BJP may support the Pilot camp from outside, the saffron party’s state president Satish Poonia said that “we have all options open” and a decision would be taken based on how the situation evolve and as per the directions of the central leadership.
In the 200-member assembly, the Congress has 107 MLAs and the BJP 72. In the past, the ruling party has claimed the support of 13 independents, two MLAs each from the CPM and the Bharatiya Tribal Party, and one from the Rashtriya Lok Dal.
The Congress had rushed Pande, Surjewala and Ajay Maken to Jaipur as observers at the meeting, amid a power tussle between its two Rajasthan leaders. The party had issued a whip ahead of the CLP meeting, indicating disciplinary action against any MLA who failed to turn up.
In a statement, Pilot, however, had made clear that he would not attend the meeting. He also claimed that he had the support of over 30 Congress MLAs and some independents.
The current crisis began on Friday night when the Rajasthan Police sent a notice to Pilot, asking him to record his statement over an alleged attempt to bring down the government.
The same notice was sent to the chief minister and some other MLAs, but Pilot’s supporters claimed that it was only meant to humiliate him.
The notices were sent after police tapped the phone conversation of two men allegedly talking about toppling the Congress government.
(With inputs from agencies)