Rebel Congress leader Sachin Pilot on Monday said he was “saddened but not surprised” after a party MLA accused Pilot of trying to bribe him to join the Bharatiya Janata Party amid the political tussle in Rajasthan, NDTV reported.

Earlier in the day, Rajasthan’s Congress MLA Giriraj Singh Malinga alleged that he was offered Rs 35 crore to join the BJP. “I had a talk with Sachinji,” Malinga told the media. “He offered me money to join the BJP, but I refused saying I will not join the saffron party.” The legislator added that he would not join the saffron party even after resigning as an MLA. “How will I face the people of my area? What will I tell them?”

Malinga further said that he had informed Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot about Pilot’s offer before the Rajya Sabha elections, adding that he was unable to provide a recording of the episode as he did not how to do it. He also agreed to appear before any investigating agency.

In response to the MLA’s accusations against him, Pilot said they were an attempt to tarnish his reputation. “I am sure more such concocted allegations will be thrown at me to cause aspersions on my public image,” Pilot said. “But I shall be unfettered and remain firm in my beliefs and convictions.”

Pilot said he was not surprised to be at the receiving end of such “baseless and vexatious allegations”. “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 the Indian National Congress,” he added. “This attempt further aims at defaming me and attack my credibility.”

The former deputy chief minister added that he will be taking “appropriate strictest possible legal action” against Malinga for making these allegations, according to ANI.

Meanwhile, Gehlot claimed that his former deputy was conspiring to topple his administration for the past six months. “Nobody believed me when I used to say that conspiracy is going on to topple government,” he told reporters, according to ANI. “Nobody knew that a person with such [an] innocent face will do such thing. I am not here to sell vegetables, I am chief minister.”

The chief minister noted that the MLAs on his side are staying without any restrictions, but Pilot’s camp had held loyalists hostage. “They are calling us and crying over phone while explaining their ordeal,” Gehlot added. “Their personal mobile phones have been snatched. Some of them want to join us.”

Gehlot accused Pilot of planning to bring down his government despite being the Congress state unit chief, reported The Indian Express. “You would have never heard in history that a party’s state head is busy toppling his own government,” he said. “I knew he is good for nothing, have no better work than instigating people to fight.”

The chief minister said that Pilot was acting on behalf of the BJP and was given money, “backed by corporate houses from Mumbai”, to bring down the Rajasthan government, the Hindustan Times reported.

Gehlot added that he was in constant touch with party president Sonia Gandhi over the matter, but expressed doubt on the return of Pilot and the rebel MLAs to the party. “Any decision taken by the high command in this or any other issue will be followed,” he said. “But I would like to add that they [the Pilot camp] are so much hand in glove with the BJP that I doubt that they’d come back. In the forthcoming days, you will get to see that.”

Gehlot added that the dissidents are sitting in BJP-ruled states “and enjoying their hospitality”. The BJP government [in Haryana] is providing them police protection; its leaders are giving statements in their favour,” he said. “What more evidence does one need to see that they are in alliance with the BJP?”

The political crisis

Pilot’s rebellion against the Congress in Rajasthan has brought the Gehlot administration to the brink of a collapse. Pilot was removed as the deputy chief minister of Rajasthan and from his position as the Congress’ state unit chief on July 14 after he did not attend the second round of meetings convened by the Congress to discuss the political crisis in the state.

The power struggle between Gehlot and Pilot had been going on for quite some time, but the latest crisis was triggered after the former deputy chief minister was summoned by the Rajasthan Anti-Terror Squad and the Special Operations Group earlier this month.

The SOG had sought time from Pilot to record his statement in a case of conspiracy and sedition registered after attempts were allegedly made by the BJP to bribe Congress MLAs to switch sides during last month’s Rajya Sabha elections. However, Gehlot had pointed out that the notice was misinterpreted, adding that a similar notice was sent to him as well.