Five days after embarking on its mission, a team of the Rajasthan police has said it has not been able to locate two MLAs who are in Sachin Pilot's entourage and whose voice samples are needed to determine if they are, as alleged by their party, the Congress, caught on tapes discussing bribes to bring down the government in Rajasthan.
The MLAs - Bhanwarlal Sharma and Vishwendra Singh - have denied featuring on the tapes, which were leaked last week.
The pair is among 18 MLAs, red-flagged as rebels by the Congress, for supporting Mr Pilot in his exercise to replace Mr Gehlot as Chief Minister of Rajasthan.
The treasure hunt for the Special Operations Group of the Rajasthan Police began on Friday when they first drove from Jaipur to Manesar near Delhi where a resort was serving as a political safe-house for Mr Pilot's posse. The welcome was not warm. The Haryana police dispatched as many as 50 cops to ensure the visiting team was unable to enter Camp Pilot. The Congress said the "hospitality" of the BJP, which governs Haryana, blew Mr Pilot's cover as he declared he is "still with the Congress."
Mr Gehlot and Mr Pilot were named Chief Minister and Deputy in December 2018 in a clumsy attempt by their party to share top honours among them after each said he deserved to lead the government when the party won Rajasthan back from the BJP. By then, their enmity was well-established. Till earlier this month, the rumblings between them were confined largely to their desert state.
Then Mr Pilot arrived in Delhi with the express demand that he be promoted and Mr Gehlot be dismissed. He said he had 30 MLAs with him - enough to cost the Congress its government. In reality, that number checked out to 18.
The Congress moved quickly, dismissing Mr Pilot as Deputy Chief Minister and as president of the Congress' Rajasthan branch. Meanwhile, attempts by the Rajasthan police to unearth the coordinates of his MLAs yielded no results.
In a press release today, the Special Operations Group said the team continues its efforts in Delhi and Manesar.
The police in Udaipur said they found Rs one crore and twenty five lakh in cash in two cars, which is being investigated, as the police believe there could be more evidence of the money in circulation being to be used to collapse Mr Gehlot's government.
Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, who, the Congress says is also on tapes, said they were not authentic.
The police have sent him a notice to be part of the investigation; he was asked to provide his voice samples. He in turn has demanded to know the source of the audio tapes.
The next big plot point in the sprawling drama is due on Friday, when the Rajasthan High Court will decide whether Mr Pilot should lose his standing as an MLA in his home state along with the 18 legislators who have pledged loyalty to him (thus far). If Mr Pilot and Co lose their case, Mr Gehlot will find it easy to win a trust vote because the number of votes he will need to win will drop to 90 - he has 102. If, however, the court rules for Mr Pilot, his coterie can effectively participate in the trust vote. If they team up with the BJP, they will have 97 votes - just five less than Mr Gehlot, far from a yawning gap.
Mr Pilot's party, the Congress, says that by skipping two crucial meetings last week that were chaired by Mr Gehlot, Team Pilot has acted against the party which it represents in the legislature - and therefore, it should be disqualified in keeping with anti-defection laws. Mr Pilot's lawyers, on the other hand, say that rule cannot apply when the legislature is not in session and that party members have the right to express their differences and cannot be considered as defectors merely for a gesture of protest.
Nobody on Mr Pilot's team has disclosed where it is currently holed up. Mr Gehlot's lot of about 100 legislators, meanwhile, have been ensconced at the Fairmont Hotel on the outskirts of Jaipur for just over a week - a sequestering that makes it harder for them to be persuaded to swap sides.