No Rahul Gandhi Meet, Says Sachin Pilot; Congress Appeals - And Berates

By denying a meeting with Rahul Gandhi, Sachin Pilot has signalled that it will take concrete and large measures to get him to end his revolt.

Sachin Pilot has denied any move to join the BJP

New Delhi:

Sachin Pilot, the 42-year-old Deputy Chief Minister of Rajasthan, told NDTV this evening that there are no plans for a meeting with Rahul Gandhi this evening, making it clear that he remains unmoved by his party's attempts to forge a reconciliation with him. The central party leadership of the Congress tried to up the EQ in the drama, with sources close to Mr Gandhi stating that the two "speak often, directly... and have great respect and affection for each other"; the party's Rajasthan branch, however, was less moony about Mr Pilot's renegade act, demanding punitive action.

In the evening, Congress sources claimed that Mr Pilot's talks with the BJP is continuing. Leaders in the party also clarified that Mr Pilot is "not in direct touch" with any of the Gandhis."The talks are being conducted only through emissaries and via media," a leader said.

This morning, Mr Pilot's rival and boss Ashok Gehlot invited a media scrum to assess the MLAs who had gathered at his home - a party meeting designed to prove that Mr Gehlot, as Chief Minister, remains in charge of a government that can win a trust vote.

Mr Pilot says that is not true. Last evening, claiming the support of 30 of the Congress' 107 MLAs, he said that Mr Gehlot is now leading a minority government. His proclamation was preceded by his arrival in Delhi from Jaipur and placed in public his determination to take his long-running fight with Mr Gehlot to the finish.

Ahead of the Congress meeting in Jaipur this morning, which Mr Pilot skipped, party leaders urged Mr Pilot to reconsider his stand, offering him both "a chance to resolve issues at a party forum" and a message from party chief Sonia Gandhi - "Our doors are open."

For all that make-nice talk, the meeting of Congress MLAs ended with a resolution that clearly marks Mr Pilot as its target - it called for "strict disciplinary action be taken against any office bearer or member of Legislative Party who indulges in activities against the Congress government, party or gets involved in any conspiracy."

The message was direct - that Mr Gehlot is unwilling to put back in the box the differences that have placed him in a direct and seemingly irreconcilable confrontation with his deputy.

Mr Gehlot claims that of the party's 107 MLAs, at least 100 were with him today. But, just in case, the Chief Minister moved with his MLAs to a hotel outside Jaipur today with shelter-in-place orders.

Since the Congress took charge of Rajasthan in December 2018, its top two leaders in the state have sparred with increasing damage. The seismic change this week comes after Mr Pilot was served notice by the state police to answer questions about an alleged attempt by the BJP to bring down the government. Because the police reports directly to Mr Gehlot who is also Rajasthan's Home Minister, the move was seen as a brazen undermining of Mr Pilot's authority and role and one designed to humiliate him. In what is seen as a cover-up, Mr Gehlot said he too would be interrogated in the same case - but the false equivalence is accepted by few as anything other than just that.

If the large number of attendees at Mr Gehlot's house unnerved Mr Pilot, he isn't showing it. By denying a meeting with Mr Gandhi, he has signalled that it will take concrete and large measures to get him to end his revolt. Congress sources who have interacted with him over the last 10 days say his list is topped by the demand to be made Chief Minister and that this is his third attempt at a "coup" since March.