Congress sacks Sachin Pilot from Rajasthan Dy CM's post, Gehlot says repeat of MP scenario not possible

Pilot has been upset since the Congress picked Ashok Gehlot as the chief minister after the 2018 Assembly polls,

FP Staff July 14, 2020 23:33:45 IST
Congress sacks Sachin Pilot from Rajasthan Dy CM's post, Gehlot says repeat of MP scenario not possible

The political crisis in Rajasthan deepened on Tuesday as the Congress cracked down on Sachin Pilot, stripping the dissident leader of the posts of Rajasthan's deputy chief minister and the party's state unit president.

The party also sacked two of Pilot's loyalists —Vishwendra Singh, who was the state tourism minister and Ramesh Meena, who held the portfolio of the food and civil supplies minister —from the state Cabinet after a meeting of the Congress Legislature Party, its second in the last two days.

According to reports, several members of the Congress and its affiliates in Rajasthan either resigned in protest or were dropped. However, Gehlot continued to blame the BJP for the current crisis. Later in the evening, he held a meeting with his Cabinet and Council of Ministers.

Pilot sacked as Deputy CM

The  CLP meeting on Tuesday was billed as a second chance for Pilot, who had turned down appeals from the party's top leadership  including Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi — to return to the party fold.

Pilot has been upset since the Congress picked Ashok Gehlot as the chief minister after the 2018 Assembly polls, while his  supporters insisted that he deserved credit for the party's victory as its state unit president.

Soon after the CLP meeting, Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala announced the removal of Pilot and two of his supporters from their ministerial berths.

Pilot enjoyed the blessings of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and was given political power at a young age. Yet, he and other ministers were trying to topple the state government as part of a BJP conspiracy, Surjewala claimed.

"This cannot be acceptable to any political party. Therefore, the Congress took the decision with a heavy heart," Surjewala said.

Education Minister Govind Singh Dotasara, a leader from the Other Backward Classes (OBC) was appointed as the new Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief.

Gehlot met Governor Kalraj Mishra immediately after the meeting and apprised him of the developments in the state, sources told news agency PTI.

NSUI state president resigns

The dismissal of the leaders from their posts seemed to trigger a wave of resignations and changes in the leadership of various organisations affiliated with the Congress.

As many as 59 office bearers of the Party's Tonk unit tendered their resignations in protest against Pilot's removal from the two posts, reported news agency ANI.

Abhimanyu Poonia, the president of the state unit of the National Students Union of India (NSUI), also resigned.

Tribal leader and MLA Ganesh Ghogra was appointed the new president of the state Youth Congress, a post held so far Pilot loyalist Mukesh Bhakar. Bhakar has yesterday in a tweet said that being loyal to the Congress meant being in "slavery" to Ashok Gehlot.

Hem Singh Shekhawat replaced another Pilot loyalist, MLA Rakesh Pareek, as the state president of the Congress Sewa Dal.

Congress leaders term development as 'sad'

Pilot's removal evoked mixed reactions from Congress leaders across the country, with a section of them still hoping for the issue to be resolved and the rest blaming the young leader for his haste.

Most of the leaders, however, described the turn of events as "unfortunate" and "sad".

Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said he was sad to see Sachin Pilot leave and asserted that instead of "parting", the former Rajasthan deputy chief minister should have joined the effort to make the party a more effective instrument for "his and our dreams".

However, when asked on Twitter whether Pilot had left the party, Tharoor said, "Not formally. I certainly hope that reconciliation is still possible. The events of the last few days led me to draw an obvious inference."

Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the development was "disappointing" for the party workers who have reposed faith in the Congress party.

"It is not just disappointing for the party, but also for the grassroot workers, who want the party to progress and do well. The biggest blow is to the common workers who have reposed faith in the party.This has certainly hurt the common workers," he told PTI.

Noting that what has happened is "unfortunate", veteran Congress leader M Veerappa Moily said the BJP is exploiting the vulnerability of young Congress leaders who are ambitious. He also felt that Pilot should have had patience and perseverance and not been in haste.

"Pilot was made deputy chief minister and given the reins of the party in Rajasthan and the next leg was the chief ministership. But he had no patience. The BJP made use of his vulnerability," he told PTI.

Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot too blamed Pilot for playing into BJP's hands.

Pilot playing into BJP's hands, alleges Gehlot

Gehlot alleged that that the BJP wanted to repeat what it had done in Madhya Pradesh but asserted that it will not succeed in Rajasthan. The Congress government led by Kamal Nath in Madhya Pradesh had collapsed in March after a rebellion by Jyotiraditya Scindia, who later joined the BJP.

"There is nothing in the hands of Sachin Pilot. He is playing into the hands of the BJP which is making all the arrangements," Gehlot told reporters after meeting Governor Kalraj Mishra.

"I am very sad that horse-trading was going on. It is for the first time in the country that democracy is under such grave threat," he said.

Anybody who believes in party's ideology welcome , says BJP

The BJP continued to refute Gehlot's allegations instead saying that the Congress's weak structure caused the crisis. BJP vice president Om Prakash Mathur said the political crisis in Rajasthan has been caused by "weakness" within the Congress.

But the party also said that the doors of the saffron party were open to those who believed in its ideology.

Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat said, "If anybody with a mass base joins the BJP or any political party, everybody welcomes him. Expressing trust in our ideology, if anybody joins us we will welcome him with open arms. This is a normal procedure."

Shortly after he was sacked, Pilot said, "Truth can be rattled, not defeated".

He also changed his profile on Twitter, deleting all references to his positions as deputy chief minister and Rajasthan Congress chief. He only described himself as MLA of Tonk and a former minister of IT, Telecom and Corporate affairs, Government of India.

Speculation continued on whether Pilot was in talks with the BJP. The saffron party, apart from saying its doors are open, has made no official comment about any political negotiation with the rebel former deputy chief minister. Congress sources had earlier said he has spoken to some leaders from the saffron party.

According to PTI, sources close to Pilot had insisted earlier that he would not join the BJP. His supporters have said that their aim is change in the state leadership.

In the 200-member Assembly, the Congress has 107 MLAs and the BJP 72. Gehlot had in the past claimed the support of 13 Independents, two MLAs each from the CPM and the Bhartiya Tribal Party (BTP), and one from the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD).

Pilot's camp has claimed that he enjoys support of around 30 MLAs.However, a video clip circulated by the Pilot camp late on Monday appeared to show a group of 16 Congress MLAs.

The numbers are large enough to keep the Gehlot camp on edge, even if most of the 107 Congress MLAs and Independents have expressed confidence in his leadership. The BTD and CPM have indicated that that their MLAs could stay neutral till the Congress settled its factional feud.

In recent days, the Gehlot camp has also distanced itself from three of the Independents, after their names surfaced in an alleged plot to topple the state government.

The Pilot camp has been repeatedly calling for a floor test, a demand echoed by the BJP.

BJP says Gehlot must prove majority before expanding Cabinet

Quoting unnamed sources, News18 had reported that Gehlot was likely to expand his Cabinet on Thursday. The chief minister also held meetings with Cabinet ministers and Council of ministers at his residence in the evening, where reports said a possible reshuffle in the Cabinet was on the agenda.

After the sacking of the three ministers, 12 senior ministers, including the CM, remain in the Cabinet. The council of ministers has 10 ministers of state.

The BJP said the chief minister must first prove his majority in the Assembly and then talk about Cabinet expansion.

"A vertical division can be seen in the Congress party in Rajasthan, with the sacking of the deputy chief minister. Now, if the chief minister wants to expand his Cabinet, he should first prove majority on the floor. He will not send a good message if he does it without floor test" ANI quoted Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly Gulab Chandra Kataria as saying.

The expelled ministers have also challenged Gehlot's leadership, claiming that they had done nothing wrong.

"What anti-party statement did we make?We only wanted to get high command's attention to promises in our manifesto as we haven't been able to deliver them in close to 2 yrs of being in power. For what fault was action taken?" ANI quoted Vishvendra Singh as saying.

He later also took to Twitter to challenge Gehlot.

The current crisis surfaced last Friday when the Rajasthan Police sent a notice to Pilot, asking him to record his statement over the alleged bid to bring down the government.

The same notice was sent to the chief minister and some other MLAs, but Pilot's supporters claimed that it was only meant to humiliate him. The Special Operation Group (SOG) had sent out the notices after tapping a phone conversation between two men, who were allegedly discussing the fall of the Gehlot government.

With inputs from agencies

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