Ashok Gehlot receives support of 2 BTP MLAs, holds 'courtesy meeting' with Rajasthan governor Kalraj Mishra

Members of the Gehlot camp huddled at a resort outside Delhi, while the whereabouts of MLAs loyal to Pilot remained unknown

Press Trust of India July 19, 2020 08:40:07 IST
Ashok Gehlot receives support of 2 BTP MLAs, holds 'courtesy meeting' with Rajasthan governor Kalraj Mishra

Jaipur: Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot on Saturday mopped up the support of two BTP MLAs, shoring up numbers for his shaky government, and his predecessor Vasundhara Raje finally broke her silence to lash out at a ‘discordant’ Congress and assert that she stands by the BJP’s ideology.

As the question mark over the survival of the Congress-led government in the desert state loomed large, two audio clips remained at the centre of the Rajasthan political tangle with attention shifting, even if momentarily, from the Congress’ internecine Gehlot vs Sachin Pilot feud to its battle with the BJP.

While Rajasthan Police's Anti-Corruption Bureau registered a case under the Prevention of Corruption Act in connection with the two clips of conversations purportedly regarding a "conspiracy" to topple Gehlot’s rule -- thrown into instability by rebel MLAs led by Pilot -- the BJP demanded a CBI probe and alleged that the government was indulging in phone tapping.

The Centre on Saturday evening sought a report from the Rajasthan government on the allegations of phone tapping, an official said.

In a communication, the Ministry of Home Affairs told the Rajasthan chief secretary to provide the details of the incident, the official added.

ACB Director General Alok Tripathi said it has registered an FIR on a complaint by Chief Whip Mahesh Joshi.

The FIR mentions details of conversations of (rebel MLA) Bhanwarlal Sharma with Gajendra Singh (Congress claims it is a reference to Union minister Gajendra Singh) and a third man called Sanjay Jain.

The Congress alleges that Jain, whose name had surfaced in the audio recording about horse trading of legislators to topple the Congress government, is a BJP leader but the saffron party rejects the allegation, saying it has no connection with him.

Jain, who was arrested on Friday night, has been remanded to four days of police custody.

In Delhi, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra asked if the Congress government in Rajasthan had resorted to "unconstitutional" methods to tap phones of politicians and demanded a CBI probe into what he called a "saga of illegalities and concocted lies". His counterpart in the Congress Pawan Khera hit back, telling reporters that the demand for a CBI probe into the audio tapes shows a conspiracy to topple the Gehlot government and amounts to an “admission of guilt" by the BJP.

It is now clear that the party was behind the rebellion by Pilot and others, the Congress said, adding that the fact its dissident legislators took shelter in hotels in BJP-ruled Haryana is further evidence of saffron party's involvement in "horse-trading". Back in the Rajasthan capital, Gehlot was quiet for much of the day but tweeted photographs of himself with the two Bharatiya Tribal Party legislators in the evening.

Amid the brewing crisis in the Congress-ruled state, Gehlot also called on Governor Kalraj Mishra for what a Raj Bhavan spokesperson termed a courtesy meeting during which the coronavirus pandemic was discussed.

Ending days of speculation, BTP legislators Rajkumar Roat and Ramprasad said they will back the Gehlot government on the condition that demands related to development of the state are fulfilled.

With the party split between Gehlot and Pilot, who was sacked as deputy chief minister earlier this week and has the support of 18 MLAs, each seat counts.

In the house of 200, the Congress has 107 MLAs, including the 19 dissidents who have been issued notices of disqualification by the speaker and have challenged them in the high court. Congress has maintained the claim that the Gehlot government has the support of 109 MLAs, including the two BTP MLAs.

The court resumes hearing on the disqualification notices on Monday and Speaker CP Joshi will not take any action on the issue till 5.30 pm on Tuesday.

Breaking her silence on the raging political strife in the state, former chief minister and senior BJP leader Raje alleged that some people were trying to create confusion on the political developments and insisted she stands with her party and its ideology.

Her remarks came in the backdrop of Nagaur MP and convenor of the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party, an NDA ally, Hanuman Beniwal accusing her of having an “internal alliance” with Gehlot, who is facing a rebellion from his former deputy Sachin Pilot.

Raje, who has been conspicuous by her silence, said in a statement earlier in the day that it is unfortunate that the people of Rajasthan are paying for the discord within the Congress.

"There is no point in trying to drag the BJP and the BJP leaders' names through the mud. It is the interest of our people that must remain paramount!" she said.

Raje went on to list the many problems facing the people of Rajasthan.

“At a time when COVID-19 has claimed more than 500 lives and positive cases are close to 28,000… locusts are attacking farmers fields… crimes against women are at an all-time high… when there is a problem of electricity across the state… And I’m only naming a few of the problems faced by our people,” she said.

“Think of the people!!!!!” she ended the statement in which she took no names.

As the political drama continued to escalate – ahead of its denouement perhaps next week – the legislators in Gehlot’s camp were sequestered at a resort on the Jaipur-Delhi highway.

Images of them doing yoga, taking part in cooking lessons and watching “Mughal-e-Azam” did the rounds of television and social media, prompting the BJP to ask caustically about social distancing in corona times.

There was little news of the Pilot camp. While the former PCC chief was silent, there was little information of the whereabouts of him or the MLAs who had mounted a rebellion with him.

They had been in a resort in Haryana till Friday evening when the Rajasthan SOG reached for their voice samples but could not meet them.

Some Congress leaders alleged they had been taken to another BJP-ruled state but no one was quite sure.

BSP leader Mayawati also weighed in with her views and said the governor should take cognisance of the instability in the state and recommend President's Rule.

Gehlot, she said, had openly violated the Anti-Defection law and cheated the BSP for a second time by getting its MLAs included in the Congress.

"And it is also evident he did an illegal and unconstitutional thing by phone tapping," Mayawati said in a series of tweets in Hindi.

All the problems, added veteran state BJP leader Kailash Chandra Meghwal, were because of the internal feud in the Congress.

"Rajasthan politics has been derailed. It is unfortunate that attempts are being made to destabilise the government when the state faces the danger of COVID-19 pandemic and also unemployment among its poor. This is not appropriate. This is due to internal feud within the Congress," he told PTI.

He said it was "condemnable" that people had resorted to "immoral tactics, ugly politics and horse-trading" to destabilise the government.

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