Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot will not attend the Congress Legislature Party meeting called by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot on Monday, Pilot’s office said on Sunday, NDTV reported. The statement was issued by Lokendra Singh, who is in charge of media relations for Pilot.
“Rajasthan Deputy CM & Congress leader Sachin Pilot not to attend Congress Legislature Party meeting scheduled to be held on Monday,” the statement said. “Mr Pilot says Ashok Gehlot Govt in minority after over 30 Congress and some independent MLAs have pledged support to Sachin Pilot.”
The Congress government in Rajasthan is in the midst of a political crisis after Pilot and legislators who are loyal to him left for Delhi on Sunday, the Hindustan Times reported. But the Gehlot camp has claimed that all is well. “There is no danger to the government,” MLA Ashok Chandana said. “All our MLAs are with us.”
Pilot and other party leaders in Rajasthan are reportedly upset with Gehlot for issuing orders to question the deputy chief minister in an investigation into alleged attempts to destabilise the state government. Pilot was summoned by the Rajasthan Anti-Terror Squad and the Special Operations Group on Friday.
Congress leader Avinash Pande said on Monday that 109 MLAs support the Gehlot-led government, PTI reported. Pande, the All India Congress Committee general secretary in charge of Rajasthan, said these MLAs have signed a letter of support to Gehlot, and went on to claim that more legislators will do so.
“A total of 109 MLAs have signed a letter expressing their trust and support to government led by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and leadership of [Congress chief] Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi,” Pande said at a press conference at 2.30 am. “Few more MLAs had telephonic conversation with the CM and they’ll also sign letter of support till morning.”
Pande said a whip has been issued to all party MLAs, asking them to attend the Congress Legislature Party meeting at 10.30 am. He also claimed ignorance about Pilot’s presence in Delhi.
Before the rift within the party, the Congress had the backing of 125 MLAs in the 200-member Rajasthan Assembly, including 107 of its own lawmakers. As many as 13 Independents and five MLAs from other parties support it. The majority mark is 101. The BJP has 72 legislators and has the support of three Rashtriya Loktantrik Party MLAs.
Pilot denies move to BJP
Pilot is likely to meet Bharatiya Janata Party National President Jagat Prakash Nadda on Monday, NDTV reported quoting unidentified officials. However, when asked about this, the Congress leader dismissed speculation that he might be joining the saffron party. “I am not joining the BJP,” he told The Indian Express.
Separately, five lawmakers considered close to Pilot held a press conference at Gehlot’s residence on Sunday and called themselves “loyal soldiers” of the Congress. “We have full faith in the leadership of Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot,” MLA Chetan Singh Choudhary said. “Our identity is because of the party and we are committed to it. Another legislator, Danish Abrar, claimed: “We are soldiers of the Congress party and we had gone to Delhi for personal issues.”
But senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal had expressed worry about the party’s situation on Sunday. “Worried for our party,” he tweeted. “Will we wake up only after the horses have bolted from our stables?”
Scindia attacks Congress
Meanwhile, BJP leader Jyotiraditya Scindia, who quit the Congress in March – leading to the fall of the Madhya Pradesh government – and joined the saffron party, expressed sadness at the state of affairs. “Sad to see my erstwhile colleague Sachin Pilot, too, being sidelined and persecuted by Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot,” he tweeted. “Shows that talent and capability find little credence in the Congress.”
On Sunday, the Congress sent its leaders Ajay Maken and Randeep Surjewala to Jaipur to talk to the party’s legislators in an attempt to keep the flock together, News18 reported. Surjewala tweeted, accusing the BJP of “buying” MLAs first in Madhya Pradesh and now in Rajasthan, while the coronavirus continued to ravage the country. “Everyone has to understand that the crisis is not just on one state but the entire democracy,” he tweeted.