The war between the Congress's top two in Rajasthan appears to have scaled up after a prayer meeting to mark the death anniversary of Sachin Pilot's father, former union minister Rajesh Pilot, where the headcount was almost seen as a show of strength.
Sachin Pilot, the Deputy Chief Minister, held the event at Dausa, his family base. According to news agency IANS, 62 lawmakers attended it, including 15 state ministers, four legislators of Mayawati's BSP and four independent lawmakers who joined the Congress in March.
Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot was missing, which fed speculation that his rift with his deputy is widening despite the party leadership's warning against any public display of animosity.
The rivalry that peaked in the tussle for the Chief Minister's job after the Congress's win in December and was on pause during the national election campaign, resurfaced after the Congress lost in all 25 Lok Sabha seats in Rajasthan.
The Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot camps blamed each other for the party's humiliation.
Ashok Gehlot, accused of obsessing about his son Vaibhav's contest in Jodhpur at the cost of the party's statewide campaign, hit out at Sachin Pilot saying he should "take responsibility for at least the Jodhpur defeat". Soon after, a lawmaker openly called for Sachin Pilot - who is state Congress chief - as Chief Minister instead of Mr Gehlot.
The 60-plus guests at the Dausa prayer meet made it the biggest political gathering in the town in tribute to Rajesh Pilot, a senior Congress leader who died in a road accident in 2000.
"This can be termed as a show of strength of the Pilot camp which has been growing and strengthening ever since the party witnessed a collapse in the Lok Sabha elections, reducing its tally to zero," a senior Congress worker was quoted as saying by IANS on Wednesday.
"Since then, the MLAs, in feeble as well as strong voices, are pitching to promote Pilot as the Chief Minister."
But one of the ministers seen at the event said: "No inference should be drawn from this. He is Deputy CM, so we went. We will go for the Chief Minister's events too."
IANS quoted a Congress worker as saying that Ashok Gehlot had shifted into the Chief Minister's bungalow three days ago which, according to him, spoke volumes as a political message in the middle of the infighting.
The Congress has 100 lawmakers in the 200-member Rajasthan assembly. With the support of its alliance partner Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), the party touched the majority mark of 101.
Since then, 12 independent legislators have joined the Congress, taking the party's tally in the assembly to 112. Six BSP MLAs have also given their external support to the Congress.
With inputs from IANS
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