Jaipur/New Delhi: A day after Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot presented over a 100 MLAs, which included independents, as his supporters and ferried them to a hotel, his government has landed on the brink yet again. Earlier this morning, rebel leader Sachin Pilot and around 16 MLAs in his support stood up the Congress for the second time when they did not attend the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting called by the party’s central leadership.
The Congress leadership had urged Pilot and his supporters to come to the meeting and sort out the differences in an attempt to end the political row between the state’s chief minister and his deputy. However, amidst reports since Monday evening that Gehlot, despite his show of strength, may be on a shaky wicket and that the number of MLAs in his camp is constantly shrinking, the crisis refuses to blow over. Pilot’s aides have also been daring Gehlot to prove his majority on the floor of the house, not his residence.
Following the meeting, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala announced that Pilot and two ministers in his support have been sacked from their positions. He said that it has also been decided that show-cause notices will also be sent to all those who skipped the meeting.
The party also sacked Pilot from the organisation’s top post, and replaced him with senior Jat leader Govind Singh Dotasra. The Congress hopes that Dotasra’s appointment as the Pradesh Congress Committee president will likely bring in the support of a substantial section of the influential Jat community, which has been veering towards the BJP’s ally Hanuman Beniwal’s Rashtriya Loktantrik Party over the last two years.
Meanwhile, striking a different note, Surjewala also added that the party doors were still open for the rebels if they wanted to talk it out.
Since last evening, Pilot has been unrelenting despite the Congress’s overtures. He released a video from an undisclosed location (said to be ITC Manesar in the National Capital Region) which showed 16 MLAs huddled together. All the MLAs were absent from the meeting and are believed to be Pilot’s supporters.
Congress sources claimed that Pilot has been “actively talking to” the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), seeking to topple the Gehlot government. Although no confirmation of this has come officially from Pilot, his silence has made many speculate over such a possibility. On Monday, his aides had categorically said that he won’t be joining the BJP, but on Tuesday Pilot seems headed in that direction. Even if he eventually decides to form his own party to retain some bargaining power, he would only be in a position to extend support to a BJP-led government. At the moment, sources in the BJP believe, it is highly unlikely the saffron party will support a Pilot-led government in the state even if he joins the BJP.
The Congress had 107 MLAs and the support of 13 independents and five from parties like Bhartiya Tribal Party (BTP), Communist Party of India (Marxist), and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD). On Monday, Gehlot paraded 90 Congress MLAs, seven independents, and three from the smaller parties. With 101 members in the 200-member assembly, Gehlot still has a simple majority. Any dwindling of these numbers will put him on thin ice.
The BTP has already announced that it will pull its support to Gehlot, but also played both sides by asking its two MLAs not to attend a trust vote if it happens. Abstention from the BTP legislators will bring down the assembly strength that may eventually help Gehlot. However, one of its legislators, Rajkumar Roat, posted a video alleging that he had been taken hostage at the resort and that the police were not letting him move and had taken his car keys. “It is a hostage-like situation,” he alleged.
Pilot had initially claimed that he had the support of 30 MLAs, which was enough to bring down the Congress government in the state. However, it appears from reports and the video he released that he may not have the support of more than 16 legislators currently.
He has alleged that he had been treated ‘unfairly’ by the chief minister ever since the party’s government came to power in 2018. His rebellion now has confirmed that he is ready to risk his stakes in the government to oust Gehlot. The seething Pilot’s refusal to reconcile, following the overt support of the central leadership to Gehlot, indicates that he could still be content with the fact that Gehlot goes down, even if he doesn’t manage to replace him as the chief minister of the state.
Ever since the crisis unfolded, political observers have been asking the crucial question: What is Pilot going to gain out of this? Given that he has the support of only a small number of legislators (that may still be enough for the Gehlot government to fall), what were the options he was exploring? After all, he is one of the young leaders who gained substantially during his time in the Congress because of his lineage and the popularity his father Rajesh Pilot left for him in the state. He was an MP when he was 26 and became a Union minister when he was 29 ‒ a feat that very few have achieved in any political party. Before the rebellion, he held the crucial position of the PCC president, two portfolios in Gehlot’s cabinet, and also the deputy minister’s chair.
However, a statement by him minutes after his sacking as the deputy CM made it clear that he was in no mood to work out a compromise. “The truth can be harassed but not defeated,” Sachin Pilot tweeted.
सत्य को परेशान किया जा सकता है पराजित नहीं।
— Sachin Pilot (@SachinPilot) July 14, 2020
Earlier, he had told NDTV that he has to stick to his stand also for the sake of MLAs who have shown ‘courage’ to revolt. “Nobody wants to leave his home, but can’t continue to put up with this kind of humiliation; my MLAs and supporters are extremely hurt and I will have to listen to them,” he told senior journalist and political analyst Javed Ansari.
What are Pilot’s options?
Many political observers believe that for Pilot to think that he could replace the seasoned and popular Gehlot, and see the CM’s chair as his birthright, reeks of entitlement. Some also feel that he may have worked hard in the state to pull the Congress out of oblivion, but by not being content with the deputy CM chair and the party’s top post in the state, Pilot has shown he preferred his own political career over that of his party.
The Congress, on the other hand, is on a sticky wicket. It either has to convince Pilot to accept the same old position of being a deputy chief minister and PCC chief or compel the party to bow down to his demand to give him the chief ministerial position, which has been the root cause of his rebellion.
Political analysts in Rajasthan are divided if it is Gehlot or Pilot who is in a challenging situation.
Narayan Bareth, a political analyst based in Jaipur said that Pilot is unlikely to be happy with a return to status quo. “If he returns, the party members will always question him for taking such an extreme step at the wrong time,” Bareth told The Wire.
“The MLAs supporting him are issuing provocative statements against Gehlot and the Congress party. The damage he has done to the party is grave and now it’s difficult to compromise,” he added.
Rajendra Bora, another political analyst said that the state media is impartially favouring Gehlot. “Why is there a question of Pilot returning to Congress? When did he leave? This time, it’s Gehlot who will have to compromise,” said Bora.
“Gehlot has been treating Pilot unfairly since he was sworn in as the deputy CM. In all the administrative meetings, Gehlot never invited Pilot and recently, issued notice to him just because two men were heard taking his name?” he asked.
In case Pilot splits from the Congress, the other option available with him will be to join hands with the BJP. But the only roadblock in this settlement is the strength of MLAs supporting Pilot. The BJP, currently with 72 MLAs in the Rajasthan assembly, needs 29 more MLAs to topple the Gehlot government and Pilot doesn’t appear to have this number.
Even if, somehow, Pilot manages to get this number, it remains unlikely that the party would address Pilot’s primary concern to be the chief minister, as was the case with Jyotiraditya Scindia in Madhya Pradesh.
“Already established BJP leaders will be uncomfortable if Pilot is made chief minister,” said Bareth.
He added that the BJP could temporarily make Pilot chief minister for the immediate benefit of establishing its government in the state. “Even if the BJP makes Pilot the CM, it would only be a temporary settlement. The leadership will not let him continue in that post as he will always be seen as an ambitious outsider,” he said.
Another option available to Pilot is to form a new political party and begin from scratch. However, analysts say that it wouldn’t play out well. “The Third Front in Rajasthan has never worked. Many stalwarts have tried it before but couldn’t succeed,” said Bareth.
He added that the rumours of a third front suits the BJP’s agenda of operating secretly in the present situation.
“After topping the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh, the BJP was bashed for its ‘undemocratic activities’. It doesn’t want to repeat the same in Rajasthan, so it is aiding the whole crisis here even as infighting continues within the Congress.” he added.