New Delhi: In remarks that suggest cracks within the Congress party in Rajasthan are widening, chief minister Ashok Gehlot on Thursday called his rival Sachin Pilot a gaddaar (traitor) for his 2020 revolt that almost toppled the government.
This is the latest salvo that the two leaders have fired at each other as Rajasthan heads to assembly polls late next year. The Bharat Jodo Yatra, led by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, is also set to enter the state soon.
Pilot, who walked alongside Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Madhya Pradesh on Thursday, did not react to Gehlot’s remarks.
In an interview with NDTV, Gehlot also alleged that Union home minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Amit Shah was involved in Pilot’s rebellion, when some Congress MLAs loyal to him were holed up in a Gurugram resort for more than a month and Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan visited them. Gehlot claimed that he has proof that an amount of Rs 10 crore was paid to each of those legislators, including Pilot.
The veteran leader said that if the party high command wants to replace him in the hopes of improving the Congress’s prospects in the assembly election, any of the 102 MLAs in Rajasthan except Pilot can succeed him.
“The MLAs will never accept someone who has revolted and has been dubbed as a gaddaar. How can he become the chief minister? How can the MLAs accept such a person as the chief minister? I have proof that Rs 10 crore each were distributed to the MLAs holed up in a Gurugram resort for toppling the Congress government in Rajasthan,” Gehlot told NDTV.
He said one will never find an example where a party president “tries to topple his own government”.
Rajasthan BJP chief Satish Punia has, however, denied the charge that the saffron party was involved in paying money to Congress legislators in 2020 to defect.
Gehlot said if Pilot had apologised to the MLAs and won them over, things would have been different.
“Till now, he has not apologised. If he had apologised, I would not have had to apologise,” the chief minister said, referring to his apology to former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi after more than 90 MLAs close to him did not allow a Congress Legislature Party meeting to take place in late September.
Gehlot looked set to become the next Congress president at the time and the meeting was held partly to decide who would succeed him as Rajasthan chief minister. With Pilot emerging as the favourite, 90 MLAs attended a parallel meeting, where they declared that another person should become the CM.
He told NDTV that the 90 MLAs who were loyal to him did not rebel against the party. They had, in fact, ensured that the Congress government was not toppled when Pilot rebelled, he said.
“The MLAs were loyal to high command, were loyal even now. They have highest the respect and regard towards Madam Sonia Gandhi. They were angry that the observer was coming and would ask them to endorse Pilot. Pilot was requesting the MLAs himself. So such a situation was created,” he told the news channel.
On Friday, Pilot responded to Gehlot’s diatribe by calling the Rajasthan chief minister’s allegations “false” and “baseless”. He stressed that the party’s priority should be to focus on next year’s assembly elections in Rajasthan and called Gehlot’s remarks “unnecessary”.
“Rahul Gandhi is on Bharat Jodo Yatra and we all need to jointly make the yatra successful. The only party that can challenge BJP is Congress. We need to challenge BJP in all ruling states,” news agency ANI quoted Pilot as saying.
Gehlot and Pilot have been at loggerheads over chief ministership ever since the Congress won the Rajasthan polls in 2018.
While Gehlot has been saying that Pilot’s 2020 rebellion cannot be ignored and that he does not enjoy the support of a majority of the Congress MLAs, the Pilot camp has been claiming that the legislators want a change in the leadership.
On November 22, a leader from the Gurjar community – to which Pilot belongs – threatened to oppose the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Rajasthan unless Pilot is made chief minister. Vijay Singh Bainsla said leaders of the Gurjar Arakshan Sangharh Samiti will be on the ground from Wednesday to make preparations for stopping the yatra.
“The current Congress government has completed four years and one year is left. Now Sachin Pilot should be made the chief minister. If this happens, then you (Rahul Gandhi) are welcome. We will oppose otherwise,” he said.
(With PTI inputs)
Note: This article was originally published at 6:01 pm on November 24 and was updated at 10:00 am on November 25 with Sachin Pilot’s response.