Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot has declared open rebellion against the Ashok Gehlot government in the state.
Claiming that Pilot has the support of over 30 Congress MLAs and some Independents, a statement released on his WhatsApp group said that the Congress government is now in minority.
“Rajasthan Deputy CM and Congress leader Sachin Pilot not to attend Congress Legislative Party meeting scheduled to be held tomorrow,” the message added.
The Congress has 107 members and the BJP 72 in the 200-MLA state assembly. Going by Pilot’s claim, the Congress has fallen below the half-way mark.
Earlier in the year, former Congress leader and incumbent BJP MP Jyotiraditya Scindia had engineered a similar coup that resulted in the collapse of the Kamal Nath government.
The statement appeared just as ministers and Congress MLAs were gathering at Gehlot’s official residence in the state capital for a meeting to express support to the chief minister, amid the power tussle between the two leaders.
Soon after the announcement, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the party remained intact, and its government will complete the five-year term in the state.
Pilot had been incommunicado. Earlier in the day, All India Congress Committee general secretary Avinash Pande said he had been trying to get in touch with Pilot for the past two days. “I have left messages for him,” said Pande, who is in charge of Rajasthan at AICC.
Pilot’s supporters said he is camping in Delhi and is upset over a notice sent to him by the Rajasthan police, who claimed to have stumbled on a plot to topple the Gehlot government.
The notice from the Special Operations Group had (SOG) sought time from him to record a statement. The same notice was also sent to Gehlot, Government Chief Whip Mahesh Joshi and some other MLAs, but those close to Pilot insisted that it was meant to “humiliate” him.
Sunday’s meeting at the CM’s official residence in the state capital was scheduled at 9 pm. Minutes later, Pilot’s statement landed. Independents supporting the Gehlot government had also been invited, in what was planned to be a show of strength for Gehlot.
Gehlot had alleged on Saturday that the opposition BJP was trying to lure Congress MLAs to topple the state government. The BJP dismissed the claim, saying the recent developments only reflected a power struggle between Gehlot and Pilot, simmering since the Congress leadership in Delhi picked the more senior politician for the CM’s post.
Congress leader Kapil Sibal had tweeted his concern during the day. “Worried for our party. Will we wake up only after the horses have bolted from our stables?” he asked.
Meanwhile, three Congress MLAs, who had left for Delhi and were being counted among those in Pilot’s camp, on Sunday said they will follow the party line. Addressing a press conference at Gehlot’s home, Rohit Bohra, Danish Abrar and Chetan Dudi called themselves “soldiers” of the party and said they will do whatever the top leadership tells them.
Hours before the scheduled meeting at the chief minister’s house, Revenue Minister Harish Choudhary, Labour Minister Tikaram Jully, Health Minister Raghu Sharma and several other MLAs met Gehlot.
“We have faith in the leadership of Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and we have expressed this to him,” Independent MLA Babulal Nagar told reporters.
Sports Minister Ashok Chandna urged the Congress MLAs to take a lesson from the recent developments in Madhya Pradesh, where Jyotiraditiya Scindia switched sides. “Any person who crosses the party line will not be respected anywhere in the world. This is not the time to lose the respect earned over generations,” Chandna said, without naming anyone.
In a tweet Sunday, CM Gehlot stressed that the police notices had gone to several people, including him. He did not name Pilot, but said a section of the media had interpreted the notices wrongly.
“The notices have been issued to the chief minister, the deputy chief minister, the government chief whip and some other MLAs. It is a part of the process,” SOG Additional Director General Ashok Rathore said on Sunday. He said as the investigation proceeds, others could also be issued notices.
Independent MLA Nagar said he is among the legislators issued with the notice. “The SOG has issued notice to me and has sought time. There are other MLAs who have received such notices,” he said.
Apart from the SOG inquiry, the state’s Anti Corruption Bureau has also begun a probe into the alleged bid to bring down the government.
The Congress government has distanced itself from the three independent MLAs — Khushveer Singh, Omprakash Hudla and Suresh Tak — who were named in ACB’s preliminary enquiry (PE).
Earlier, the government had the support of all 13 independent MLAs, who also voted for the Congress candidates in the Rajya Sabha elections last month.
At a press conference Saturday, Gehlot had cited the FIR lodged by the SOG to accuse the BJP of trying to bring down his government and cited the FIR registered by the SOG. The FIR is based on an alleged tapped phone conversation between two men, said to be BJP members, who were later arrested.