Desert storm: Gehlot waits for Pilot to ‘fly back’ to home turf

The Congress government has, however, sought disqualification of Pilot and 18 other dissident MLAs

Ashok Gehlot
The Chief Minister alleged that Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, other BJP leaders and some over-ambitious leaders of the Congress party were conspiring to bring down the Congress government in the state. Photo: PTI (File)

Half way through the week since Sachin Pilot’s rebellion on Sunday, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot still holds the fort in Rajasthan. And, he waits patiently for the possible return of his former deputy whose leap of ambition had plunged the state into a crisis situation.

The current Congress government has, however, sought the disqualification of Pilot and 18 other dissident MLAs, though it repeatedly asserted it has not closed doors on him.

Rajasthan Assembly Speaker CP Joshi has confirmed that disqualification notices have been sent out on Tuesday (July 14) on the basis of the complaint made by the Congress party. The dissidents have been time till Friday to furnish their replies.

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Chief Minister Gehlot, meanwhile, talked tough, accusing Pilot of being directly involved in the alleged horse-trading with the opposition BJP to bring down his government.

He did not refer to Pilot by name but spoke about the “deputy chief minister” and the “PCC president”, both posts held by the leader before he was stripped of them on Tuesday as he tussled with the more senior Rajasthan leader for power.

Related news: Sachin Pilot may have to cool heels before ghar wapsi

Meanwhile, the resort in Haryana’s Manesar where Pilot and his loyalists are staying, has overnight become a “quarantine centre”. A signboard stating the same has been put up at the entrance of the Best Western resort, and no visitors are being allowed inside.

But, amid this tough posturing, the Congress said the dissident MLAs can still return to the Congress fold. Avinash Pande, the AICC in-charge of Rajasthan indicated this in a tweet in the morning and party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala followed that up while interacting with the media in the afternoon.

Pilot has said he is not joining the BJP but not spelled out his next move.

“The party’s doors have not closed for Pilot. May God give him good sense and he realises his mistake. I pray that he comes out of the BJP’s illusory trap,” Pande tweeted in Hindi.

Senior leader Surjewala said all grievances will be heard and solutions found. “Come back to your family, sit with your family and place your view before the family,” he said at Jaipur hotel where MLAs in the Gehlot camp are holed up.

Related news: Stop accepting BJP hospitality, come back, Surjewala tells Pilot

He said if Pilot is not joining the BJP, he should not accept the “hospitality” of BJP-ruled Haryana, referring to reports that the MLAs close to the rebel leader are camping in two Gurgaon hotels.

The Congress has made clear that it is going for revamp of the organisation in the state.

On Tuesday, Avinash Pande announced that all cells and departments of the state Congress are dissolved so that they can be reconstituted under the leadership of the new PCC chief. On Wednesday, he announced a similar disbanding of all district and block committees of the party.

In the harshest words spoken so far by any Congress leader against Pilot, Ashok Gehlot on Wednesday accused his sacked deputy of being directly involved in horse-trading with the BJP. He claimed there is proof that money was being offered.

“Our deputy chief minister and PCC president himself was doing the deal and was giving statements that no horse-trading was taking place. What clarification are you giving when you yourself were involved?” he asked.

Related news: Good English and being handsome isn’t everything: Gehlot’s dig at Pilot

“Speaking good English or Hindi, giving a good byte is not everything,” he said. What matters, he added, is commitment to the party’s programmes and policies.

The Rajasthan Assembly secretariat sent notices to 19 MLAs, following a complaint by Congress chief whip Mahesh Joshi who sought their disqualification from the House. The party said the MLAs had defied a whip and skipped the Congress Legislature Party meetings on Monday and Tuesday. It also referred to their “hostile” media statements.

It wanted action under paragraph 2 (1) (a) of the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, which disqualifies MLAs if “voluntarily” give up the membership of the party which they represent in the House. The Congress letter said the Supreme Court has “unequivocally held” that the provision comes into effect when the conduct of an MLA leads to this inference.

Related news: Sad to see Sachin Pilot leave, says Shashi Tharoor

Among those sent notices are Vishvendra Singh and Ramesh Meena, who were sacked along with Pilot from the state cabinet after their rebellion against Ashok Gehlot. Others include Deepender Singh Shekhawat, Bhanwar Lal Sharma and Harish Chandra Meena, who had also given statements to the media challenging the Gehlot government.

Sachin Pilot has been upset since the Congress picked Gehlot for the chief minister’s post after the 2018 assembly polls. His supporters had credited him for leading the Congress to victory as the state unit president.

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 Bhartiya Tribal Party (BTP), and one from the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD).

(With inputs from agencies)

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