Ashok Gehlot Sachin Pilot
Congress leaders Ashok Gehlot, Rahul Gandhi and Sachin Pilot in a discussion | PTI File Photo

Fresh hiccups for Cong amid buzz on Pilot’s ‘move’ to quit, launch new party

  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram
  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram
  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram

Three years after Jyotiraditya Scindia chose the birth anniversary of his late father, Madhavrao Scindia, to exit the Congress party, it is now the forthcoming death anniversary of another Congress stalwart that is giving jitters to the Grand Old Party. Frenzied speculations are gaining momentum about the possibility of Tonk MLA Sachin Pilot announcing his decision to quit the Congress party at a massive gathering that is scheduled in Rajasthan’s Dausa on June 11 to mark the 23rd death anniversary of his father, Rajesh Pilot.

Momentary truce?

While Pilot has maintained a studied silence on the rumours, his confidantes have rubbished claims that the 45-year old Gujjar leader was on his way out of the party. Sources close to Pilot insist that reports about him planning to launch a new party on June 11 have been planted by chief minister Ashok Gehlot’s spin doctors to stir tensions between the party’s central leadership and Pilot.

Sources confirmed to The Federal that the party leadership spent the past few days desperately trying to convince Pilot and Gehlot to stay in line with the ‘united Congress’ pitch that was made on May 29 by Congress general secretary (organisation) KC Venugopal in the presence of the two warring leaders.

Also read: Rajasthan: No lull in desert storm; Pilot says he’s waiting for govt to act on demands

Venugopal’s assertion that Gehlot and Pilot would fight the Rajasthan assembly elections scheduled for November “unitedly” and “win the state” had come after Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and former party president Rahul Gandhi jointly tried to broker peace between the two bitter rivals. However, the optics at that briefing belied the claims Venugopal made as Gehlot and Pilot refused to take any questions and kept a safe distance from each other, refraining from even sharing glances.

 Pilot firm on demands

The Federal had reported after the meeting that though Gehlot and Pilot had assured Kharge and Rahul that they would accept whatever formula the high command comes up with to resolve their turf war, the nuances of the compromise plan had not been firmed up. The Congress leadership had hoped that a public statement made by Venugopal, in the presence of Gehlot and Pilot, suggesting that the two rivals had buried their differences would earn the party some more time to work out a truce plan.

However, as soon as Gehlot and Pilot returned to Rajasthan, they began taking fresh potshots at each other. Pilot claimed that he remained firm about his three demands – a time-bound high-level inquiry into the alleged corruption of the previous Vasundhara Raje-led BJP state government, dissolution of the existing Rajasthan Public Service Commission and its reconstitution and adequate disbursal of compensation to students who couldn’t sit for various government-conducted exams owing to frequent exam paper leaks.

Pilot also said that he had not abandoned his 15-day ultimatum to the Gehlot government for meeting these demands. Though Gehlot refrained from directly countering Pilot’s fresh attack, he took a veiled swipe at the Tonk MLA saying his only message to his colleagues is to “have patience, patience, patience”.

What triggered rumours about new party

Realising that the temporary truce that was struck between Gehlot and Pilot at Kharge’s 10, Rajaji Marg residence was on the brink of collapse, the leadership made fresh overtures to drive the two leaders back towards conciliation but with little success.

Sources said Venugopal and Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, the Congress’s Rajasthan desk in-charge, were bluntly informed by Gehlot that meeting Pilot’s demands at this juncture would be akin to the state government pleading guilty to having done precious little in the past four and half years to investigate the Raje government’s corruption and also owing up its failure in cracking down on the mafia responsible for frequent exam paper leaks in the state.

Pilot, who made a quick visit to the Maa Sharda Devi temple in Madhya Pradesh’s Maihar town on June 5 – the pilgrimage site is thronged by devotees seeking divine guidance and luck for future endeavours – received a call from Venugopal a day later. That Pilot was accompanied by Congress leader Vivek Tankha, who as a prominent lawyer in Madhya Pradesh during the 1990s built a formidable reputation for counselling politicians who wished to float a new party, only added fuel to speculations that the guidance Pilot was seeking at Maihar was for charting a political journey out of the Congress.

Also read: Desert storm awaits Cong? Buzz over Pilot’s next move ahead of Assembly polls

Venugopal, sources said, urged Pilot to not take any decision in haste while also imploring him to be flexible with his demands. Pilot was also reminded that he had been directly assured by Rahul that his concerns will be addressed and the party will accord him the respect and position he deserves in Rajasthan Congress.

Sources told The Federal that Pilot gave no indication of his intent to quit the Congress but was also unwilling to dilute his demands. On Tuesday, as rumours swirled about Pilot gearing up to announce his departure from the Congress and launching his own outfit – some local media reports even claimed that he had narrowed down on Pragatisheel Congress and Rajasthan Jan Sangharsh Party as the two possible names for his outfit – Randhawa told reporters in Delhi that he was in touch with the rebel leader and there was no question of Pilot abandoning the party.

Pilot loyalists make conflicting claims

Rajasthan minister and Pilot loyalist Murari Lal Meena also told reporters that rumours about the Tonk MLA planning to announce his new party after paying homage to Rajesh Pilot at the June 11 rally in Dausa were “without substance”. Meena asserted that Pilot and all his supporters continue to be Congress loyalists and that no other meaning should be read into the Dausa rally other than the stated reason of commemorating Rajesh Pilot.

Sources close to Pilot also told The Federal that the former deputy chief minister was peeved at being mocked regularly by Gehlot and was unhappy about the chief minister not meeting his demands despite directions from the Congress high command.

A senior party leader close to the Tonk MLA said, “it is unlikely that Pilot will go all out at the Dausa rally to announce his resignation from the Congress but he may make some big announcement that will give an indication of his immediate political plans.”

Another Pilot loyalist told The Federal that in April, when the Tonk MLA defied the party’s central leadership to sit on his day-long hunger strike in protest against the Gehlot government, he had also made up his mind to announce the formation of his political outfit.

Pilot reportedly dropped the plan after Rahul, who was then busy with the Karnataka poll campaign, sent him word through an AICC office bearer informing him that the Rajasthan issue will be addressed on priority as soon as the Karnataka polls conclude. Pilot had even had a preliminary round of consultations with poll strategist Prashant Kishor’s I-PAC – a curious choice given that the company has of late been besieged by internal conflicts over non-payment of salaries and dues to some of its staff and Kishor himself has been too busy charting his own political course in Bihar.

Representatives from I-PAC had even surveyed some parts of Rajasthan and discussed with Pilot the broad contours of launching a new party and boosting his political profile as an anti-corruption crusader in the run up to such an announcement. Further discussions on the matter, however, did not take place as Pilot hoped that Rahul’s intervention would tame Gehlot.

Also read: Rajasthan Congress incharge says Gehlot will respond to Pilot’s ultimatum

Congress wasting time on Pilot: Camp Gehlot

Sources say despite Gehlot refusing to yield an inch to his nemesis, Pilot still believes that Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi will work out some compromise. “Rahul is out of the country till June 12 and, as far as I know, Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi are also in the US right now. Pilot will not leave the Congress while the Gandhis are abroad. Whatever decision he has to take, he will take only after meeting Rahul and Priyanka but the leadership must realise that it has tested Pilot’s patience for too long and can’t expect him to go on tolerating humiliation by Gehlot”.

The Gehlot camp, meanwhile, has informed the central leadership that it was “wasting its time trying to appease Pilot”, said a senior minister close to the chief minister.

“We have allowed him to damage the party for too long by not taking action against him for his dharnas and rallies against the government even though assembly polls are less than five months away. The chief minister is busy organising Mehangai Rahat Camps across the state while Pilot is leaving no stone unturned to sabotage the party. The high command should call his bluff; if Pilot leaves now, we can still reverse some of the damage he has caused but we will have no time to do so if we keep tolerating his tantrums and then he quits just ahead of the elections,” the Gehlot aide said.

Randhawa told The Federal that the central leadership was “doing all it can to resolve the issues between Gehlot and Pilot” but failed to explain why the duo had not been pulled up for breaking the truce that was announced by Venugopal after their meeting with Kharge and Rahul.

Also read: Rajasthan: Amid Sachin Pilot’s stir threat, rumours say he’ll quit Cong next month

Asked if another round of talks with Pilot was on the cards to end the impasse, Randhawa said, “it is an ongoing process; not only Pilot, we are talking to Gehlot and our other leaders too… I can only hope that they realise that they will be stronger together and their unity will help the Congress win Rajasthan; we hope this will be resolved soon but I can’t predict the future.”

With June 11 just four days away, Randhawa doesn’t have to wait too long to see what Pilot has in store for his party and his supporters. Will Pilot, who has by now amassed a reputation for failed coups, vacillating rebellions and puerile tantrums, finally take flight or crash land yet again?

Read More
Next Story