The Congress denied any threat to its government in Rajasthan.
Jaipur/ New Delhi:
- The Congress on Monday avoided collapse in Rajasthan
- The party has called another meeting of legislators at 10 am on Tuesday
- Rebel Sachin Pilot, who remained cold to overtures, also invited
The Congress on Monday avoided collapse in Rajasthan after a revolt by its number two leader in the state, Sachin Pilot, but it packed off at least 100 MLAs to a resort in a sign that its crisis is far from over. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot flashed the victory sign along with Congress MLAs who attended his meeting in Jaipur, asserting that his government is safe. The party has called another meeting of legislators at 10 am on Tuesday and invited rebel Sachin Pilot who remained cold to the overtures. As the 42-year-old denied any meeting with Rahul Gandhi, sources close to Mr Gandhi said the two "speak often, directly... and have great respect and affection for each other".
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Ashok Gehlot and the Congress unit in Rajasthan were less conciliatory towards Sachin Pilot. After the meeting of MLAs, a resolution called for "strict disciplinary action" against anyone who "indulges in activities against the Congress government and party".
The Congress's split approach was reflected in the drama at the party's headquarters in Jaipur, where posters of Sachin Pilot were taken down in the morning and later put up again. "Doors are open for Sachin Pilot and other MLAs. They will be heard and solutions found. This is the discipline of the party," Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said, inviting him to Tuesday's meeting.
Sachin Pilot is camping at a luxury hotel near Delhi with a few MLAs. He insisted that Mr Gehlot had lost his majority and his claim of 106 MLAs was greatly exaggerated. In the 200-member Rajasthan assembly, 101 is the majority mark.
Mr Pilot said he has 30 MLAs but Congress sources claimed he had no more than 16. Late on Monday, Team Pilot released a video of around 15 MLAs who support him. The party fears its crisis will worsen if the BJP actively tries to pull down its government with help from the sulking Rajasthan Congress chief, following the Madhya Pradesh playbook.
Congress sources said Mr Pilot "is still negotiating with the BJP" but the rebel leader denied he was joining the BJP like his former colleague Jyotiraditya Scindia. In March, Jyotiraditya Scindia, a close aide of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, stunned the party in Madhya Pradesh by defecting to the BJP along with 22 MLAs, ending its wafer-thin majority. With Mr Scindia's help, the BJP returned to power. It was around that time when Mr Pilot, who was forced to give up his claim to Chief Ministership of Rajasthan, was also believed to have opened talks with the BJP.
In nearly two years in power, the Congress's top two in Rajasthan never stopped feuding. The tipping point for Mr Pilot came after he was asked to answer questions in an investigation into an alleged attempt to destabilise the state government ahead of last month's Rajya Sabha elections.
Chief Minister Gehlot sought 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.
The Bharatiya Tribal Party withdrew its support from the Congress today but its two MLAs are likely to defy the order. Till recently, the Congress had 107 MLAs and had the support of 10 Independent candidates. Today, only 106 of those 117 MLAs showed up at Mr Gehlot's meeting.
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 will be a challenge since the party has to consider its own Rajasthan powerhouse, former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje.
While Mr Gehlot was deep into political firefighting, two of his aides were raided by taxmen in what the Congress alleged was pressure tactics by the BJP-led central government. Over 200 officers raided 22 locations – including hotel Fairmont where Congress MLAs have been taken -- over allegations of tax evasion.