Jaipur/ New Delhi: The Congress faces a cliffhanger today in Rajasthan, where its number two leader Sachin Pilot has revolted and may make it official by skipping a crucial meeting called by his chief adversary, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, this morning. Sachin Pilot, 42, is in Delhi with MLAs loyal to him; the Deputy Chief Minister claims he has the support of 30, enough to bring down the Congress government. The Congress called a press meet at 2.30 AM to deny any crisis, claiming the support of 109 in the 200-member assembly.
Congress sources say they are working for a possible last-minute turnaround by Sachin Pilot, who is also chief of the Congress in Rajasthan. “What makes you think Sachin Pilot will not attend the MLAs’ meet,” Congress leaders said in the late-night briefing, asserting that action would be taken against absentees. Sources in the party believe Sachin Pilot has not more than 16 MLAs on his side.
Sachin Pilot is likely to meet BJP chief JP Nadda in Delhi amid rumours that he is taking Jyotiraditya Scindia’s route in an attempt to reclaim his political space.
In March, Jyotiraditya Scindia, a close aide of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, stunned the party by defecting to the BJP along with 22
Madhya Pradesh MLAs, which brought the Congress government in that state crashing down. With Mr Scindia’s help, the BJP returned to power.
Around the same time, Sachin Pilot, another Rahul Gandhi confidant who had been resentful after being denied Chief Ministership of Rajasthan, was also believed to have started talks with the BJP.
The Congress denied any threat to its government in Rajasthan. “A total of 109 MLAs have signed a letter expressing their trust and support to the government led by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and leadership of Sonia Gandhi-ji and Rahul Gandhi-ji,” Rajasthan Congress in-charge Avinash Pande said at the 2.30 AM briefing. The majority mark is 101.
After nearly two years of a simmering feud with Ashok Gehlot, the tipping point for Sachin Pilot came after he was summoned for questioning in an investigation into an alleged attempt to destabilise the state government ahead of the Rajya Sabha elections. The summons was based on what the police say were tapped phone conversations of two BJP members arrested on Friday.
Chief Minister Gehlot tried to downplay the summons by the Special Operations Group, saying he, too, had received it. That did not wash with a furious Sachin Pilot, whose aides pointed out that as state home minister in charge of the Special Operations Group, Mr Gehlot had practically given himself the summons as an eyewash.
“Nobody wants to leave his home, but can’t continue to put up with this kind of humiliation; my MLAs and supporters are extremely hurt and I will have to listen to them,” Sachin Pilot told senior journalist and political analyst Javed Ansari on Sunday.
The Congress has 107 seats in the 200-strong Rajasthan Assembly and has the support of 10 Independent candidates. Five MLAS from other parties — the Rashtriya Lok Dal, the CPM and the Bharatiya Tribal Party – support Ashok Gehlot, who claimed on Saturday that the BJP was offering up to Rs 15 crore to MLAs to switch sides.
The BJP, which has 73 MLAs, needs the support of another 35 to take power in Rajasthan. Offering Sachin Pilot the post of Chief Minister as he wants will be a challenge since the party has to consider its own Rajasthan powerhouse, former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje.