Sachin Pilot said today he was "saddened but not surprised" by a Congress MLA's sensational claim that he had tried to bribe him into joining the BJP in Rajasthan. The rebel leader also threatened "appropriate and strictest possible legal action" against Giriraj Singh Malinga, a recent Congress recruit who moved from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) last year.
Giriraj Singh Malinga alleged on camera that Sachin Pilot had offered him Rs 35 crore to switch to the BJP, but he turned it down. He also said he had informed Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot about the secret offer at the time.
"This has been happening since December, it is nothing new. I told them I cannot do this. I had a discussion with Sachin Pilot. He spoke to me and said how much do you want. He told me Rs 35 crore," said Mr Malinga told reporters, claiming he had spoken to the rebel Congress leader, then Deputy Chief Minister, "two-three times".
"I quit the BSP because of such things. If I quit Congress, what do I tell the public?"
The Congress MLA said when he shared the conversation with Chief Minister Gehlot and warned him that the "party is on the verge of splitting", he was told, "Don't worry, this will all be sorted out."
Sachin Pilot strongly rebutted the allegations. "I am saddened but not surprised to be at the receiving end of such baseless and vexatious allegations being leveled against me. This is done solely to malign me and to stifle the legitimate concerns that I had raised against the party leadership of the state, as a member and MLA of Congress," he said, alleging an attempt to attack his credibility.
"I am sure more such concocted allegations will be thrown at me to cause aspersions on my public image. But I shall be unfettered and remain firm in my beliefs and convictions."
Chief Minister Gehlot renewed his attacks on Mr Pilot, saying no one wanted to believe that "such an innocent face" could conspire against the party. This time, he also used words like "nikamma" and "nakaara" - both variants of "worthless" - to described him.
"He (Mr Pilot) was conspiring for the past six months with the BJP's support. Nobody believed me when I used to say that a conspiracy is going on to topple the government. Nobody knew that a person with such an innocent face will do such thing. I'm not here to sell vegetables, I am Chief Minister," Mr Gehlot said.
Sources close to Sachin Pilot said Mr Gehlot has gone rogue and the party high command has no control on him. A response on his remarks will be given after the legal battle as it can be used in the court, they said.
Mr Pilot's latest accuser, Giriraj Singh Malinga, is among the six MLAs who shifted from Uttar Pradesh politician Mayawati's BSP and joined the Congress in Rajasthan in September last year, taking its tally to 106.
Mayawati had posted a series of furious tweets accusing the Congress of buying her MLAs and betraying her when she had offered unconditional support in 2018, when the Congress barely made half-way mark. On Saturday, Mayawati accused Mr Gehlot of "openly violating the anti-defection law and cheating the BSP for a second time by taking away its MLAs". She said the governor should take note of the "instability" in Rajasthan and recommend President's Rule.
Last month, the BSP had requested the Election Commission to order the six MLAs to follow its whip rather than vote as Congress members in the Rajya Sabha election. The powerful election body refused to intervene. There was speculation that the BSP may go to the court with a similar request to hurt the Rajasthan Congress in the event of a test of strength in the assembly.