Team Pilot in Limbo

Rajasthan has been witnessing a tense high political drama with star actors Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and beleaguered as well as now ousted Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot. Both have been playing their roles – the Chief Minister is as the main protagonist, and Sachin Pilot as a parallel protagonist, who is waging a war against the Chief Minister. But the power of strength is clearly with Ashok Gehlot.

Both the lead actors have their own followers playing supporting roles. In the show of strength, Ashok Gehlot, being the Chief Minister, seems to dominate the scene with the support of the majority of Congress Party MLAs, but the youthful Sachin Pilot, who has been stripped of his positions as Deputy Chief Minister and president of the Pradesh Congress Party appears to be in a weak with only 18 rebel Congress MLAs supporting him.

However, the drama is yet to reach its climax. The so-called fight between the titans has now entered the court scene. Sachin Pilot petitioned in the Rajasthan High Court, seeking “justice” and claiming to be a victim of the highhandedness of Ashok Gehlot, who operated through Assembly Speaker CP Joshi in issuing a notice with a threat to disqualify Sachin Pilot and his 18 supporting MLAs from the membership of the State Assembly for not honoring the party whip and failing to attend the latest Congress Legislative Party (CLP) meeting.

Though the discord between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot has come into the open on the stage a week ago, it reached a crescendo on July 12 when Sachin Pilot claimed he had the support of 30 party MLAs and some more Independents were likely to join him. He even claimed, in a statement released in New Delhi that the Ashok Gehlot government was in the minority.

Sachin Pilot, who was accompanied by his supporters, was in New Delhi and understood to have met Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s close aide Ahmed Patel and conveyed his unhappiness over the police notice issued to him for questioning over the alleged destabilization of the Ashok Gehlot government.

Earlier sensing some anti-Ashok Gehlot activity was simmering in Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot’s camp, the Chief Minster had asked the Rajasthan police’s Special Operations Group to send notices to Ashok Gehlot, Sachin Pilot, Government Chief Whip Mahesh Joshi and some others seeking time to record their statements. But an infuriated Sachin Pilot said the notice under the sedition provision was an attempt to humiliate him. However, Ashok Gehlot said that such notice has gone to several others including himself and more were on the way to others. Consequently, Sachin Pilot came out openly and went to New Delhi with his supporters to bring it to the notice of the Party High Command.

The rift has been simmering latently ever since the State Assembly elections were held in 2018. Sachin Pilot claims the success of the Congress Party by winning 100 of the 200 Assembly seats was because of his efforts, and hence he was expecting he would be made the Chief Minister of the State. But he ended up with being made as the Deputy Chief Minister.

But supporters of Ashok Gehlot question if that claim was a fact, why his charisma has utterly failed in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in which the Congress Party was not able to win even a single seat while BJP swept them by winning 24 Lok Sabha seats from the State. In contrast in the recent Rajasthan Rajya Sabha elections in which the Congress won two seats and the BJP only one.

This poor show has made the BJP strengthen its party in the Rajasthan. And at the same time against the background of the Sachin Pilot-Ashok Gehlot rift was widening and coming to the fore, the Chief Minister has felt his position was threatened. He also felt that the BJP would repeat in Rajasthan what it did in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka by destabilizing and replacing the Congress governments there. But with the issue of notice of disqualifications by the Speaker to the Congress MLAs, who did not attend the CLP meeting, and with Sachin Pilot declaring that he would not join the BJP, most of them have chosen to remain with their party.

No one will be able to say now how the political drama of Rajasthan drama will end. But surely for now, notwithstanding the Rajasthan High Court judgment either in favor or against, the fate of Sachin Pilot and his few supporters, hangs in limbo.

As of this writing, news reports say two FIRs were filed after Congress alleged that investigations have revealed rebel MLAs were plotting with the BJP against the Ashok Gehlot government. The Congress moved swiftly and suspended two rebel MLAs – Bhanwar Lal Sharma and Vishvendra Singh – alleging that the audio proof shows they were involved in “deals” to dislodge the Ashok Gehlot government in connivance with the BJP. A businessman by name, Sanjay Jain, was also charged in the FIR and has been arrested. A team of the Rajasthan Police has left Jaipur for Delhi, where 18 Congress MLAs are supposedly camping since the weekend. Reports indicate the Police would like to question the rebel MLA Bhanwar Lal Sharma, who Congress says is heard on audio tape discussing bribes from the BJP as part of a deal to overthrow the Ashok Gehlot government. The Congress is also accusing the Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat in the “deal-making” while Mr. Shekhawat claims the audio tape doesn’t have his voice.

– Contributed by Mr. J.V. Laskshmana Rao, a former National News Coordinator of Express News Service, New Delhi, and former Chief Editor of US-based India Tribune. He frequently travels between India and the US.

Picture Credits: PTI

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