"Don't Know How Many MLAs Support Sachin Pilot": P Chidambaram

P Chidambaram conceded that the Congress's "situation" in Rajasthan - the revolt by Ashok Gehlot's camp over Sachin Pilot's possible promotion - "could have been handled better".

P Chidambaram told NDTV that Ashok Gehlot was set to remain Rajasthan Chief Minister.

New Delhi:

Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram on Thursday said the party's crisis in Rajasthan "could have been handled better" but steered clear of laying any blame on Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, whom he called a "staunch Congressman who will always be loyal".

"The matter is between Congress president and Ashok Gehlot, I can't comment on that. Clearly, the situation in Rajasthan could have been handled better. Gehlot has apologised now, so the matter is closed," he told NDTV in an interview.

"There were two observers from Delhi, it was their job to handle it," he added. "Ashok Gehlot is a staunch Congressman. He will always be loyal to the party," he said, taking exception at the party's Rajasthan crisis being described as a "rebellion".

Mr Chidambaram's comment comes days after an open revolt by Mr Gehlot's loyalists over a possible leadership change in state - involving rival Sachin Pilot as his replacement - if the senior leader became Congress chief.

"Ashok Gehlot is the Chief Minister of Rajasthan. Unless he steps down, there is no vacancy. Whether he will step down, I cannot say. There is every possibility he will be Chief Minister and held responsible for winning the state back for the party," Mr Chidambaram said.

"Somebody has to be in charge in Rajasthan and lead the party to the elections now 16-17 months away," the senior leader added.

Asked about Sachin Pilot and his reported interest in being named Chief Minister, Mr Chidambaram said, "I don't know how many MLAs support Sachin Pilot. I think a candidate for Chief Minister must enjoy the support of a significant number of MLAs. That is common sense."

Amid chances that Mr Pilot would be named Mr Gehlot's successor, 82 MLAs participated in a parallel meeting, demanding that the next Chief Minister - if Mr Gehlot became Congress president - be named from among those loyal to him.

They did not attend the official legislature party meeting called for passing a resolution authorising Congress chief Sonia Gandhi to appoint a successor to Mr Gehlot.

The party's disciplinary committee asked three Gehlot loyalists -- Rajasthan ministers Shanti Dhariwal and Mahesh Joshi, and Dharmendra Rathore -- to explain within 10 days why they shouldn't face disciplinary action over the meeting.

This was after observers for Rajasthan, Mallikarjun Kharge and Ajay Maken, charged them with "gross indiscipline" in a report to party chief Sonia Gandhi.