A day after the Congress sacked him as Rajasthan's deputy chief minister and the party's state unit president, Rajasthan MLA and party leader Sachin Pilot said he would not be joining the BJP. However, the Rajasthan Speaker has issued notices to Pilot and 18 other rebel Congress MLAs after the party sought their disqualification from the state assembly.
“I am not joining the BJP,” Pilot said on Wednesday, alleging that speculation about him switching sides was being fuelled by some leaders in Rajasthan to tarnish his image.
Pilot's remarks came a day after the Congress sacked him as Rajasthan's deputy chief minister and the party's state unit president. Two loyalists of Pilot were also dropped from the state Cabinet.
“I have worked very hard to bring the Congress party back in the government and defeat the BJP,” he told PTI.
While the Congress government in Rajasthan looks safe for now, 19 party leaders, including Pilot, were issued notices on Tuesday. The MLAs had defied a whip and did not attend its legislature party meetings held on Monday and Tuesday. They have until Friday to respond to the notices.
“Notices have been issued to 19 rebel MLAs, including Sachin Pilot, yesterday," Speaker C.P. Joshi told PTI on Wednesday.
Sources told the news agency that the notices were sent after the chief whip of the Congress in Rajasthan Assembly, Mahesh Joshi, wrote to the Speaker, seeking proceedings against the rebel MLAs in accordance with the 10th Schedule of the Constitution. The Congress also cited past Supreme Court rulings to seek their disqualification.
Those who have been sent notices include Vishvendra Singh and Ramesh Meena, who were sacked along with Pilot from the state cabinet after their rebellion against Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. Others include Deepender Singh Shekhawat, Bhanwar Lal Sharma and Harish Chandra Meena, who had made statements in the media challenging the Gehlot government.
The chief whip alleged in his complaint that the MLAs deliberately conspired against the Congress, acting openly against its interests. They indulged in activities "blatantly prejudicial" to the continuation of the state government, the letter to the Speaker said. Joshi added that the MLAs "deliberately absented" themselves from a party meeting on Monday, and failed to attend a second meeting on Tuesday despite reminders.
In an apparent reference to Chief Minister Gehlot's coterie, Pilot said on Wednesday that some leaders in Rajasthan were trying to fuel speculation that he is joining the BJP and that he would like to categorically state that he was not doing so. “Such a speculation is being fuelled to tarnish my image,” he said.
Gehlot has accused his former deputy of playing into the hands of the BJP. Pilot is said to be upset since the Congress picked Gehlot as the chief minister after the 2018 assembly polls, while his own supporters insisted that he deserved credit for the party's victory as its state unit president.
The current crisis came to the fore on 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.
The Congress chief whip in Rajasthan has alleged that over the past several days attempts are being made to topple the state government through “corruption, bribery and other illegal means”. He also referred to a probe by the Special Operations Group (SOG) of the Rajasthan Police to investigate the “conspiracy”.
With regard to the notices issued against the MLAs, AICC general secretary Avinash Pande said it was up to the Speaker to decide what action to take if the replies to the notices were not satisfactory. The party has also issued a gag order, saying no Congress member can communicate with the media without the permission of the newly appointed state unit chief.
On Tuesday, Pande, who is the Rajasthan in-charge at the AICC, dissolved the state executive and all cells of the Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee (RPCC). The Congress appointed Govind Singh Dotasara as the president of the party's Rajasthan unit.
Though the party seems to have the numbers to hang on to power in Rajasthan, the development deepens the crisis in the Congress which has lost two major states – Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh – over the past year.
A video clip circulated by the Pilot camp on Tuesday appeared to show a group of 16 Congress MLAs. In a statement issued on Sunday, Pilot had claimed the support of 30 Congress MLAs and “some independents”.
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 state assembly has 200 MLAs and those close to Pilot had earlier called for a test of strength on the floor of the House.
The Congress has 107 MLAs while the BJP has 72 in the 200-member assembly. In the past, the ruling party has claimed the support of 13 independents, two MLAs each from the CPI(M) and the Bhartiya Tribal Party (BTP), and one from the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD).