At least 92 Rajasthan MLAs threaten to quit if Sachin Pilot is made CM

Congress Legislature party meeting fails to take place as Gehlot loyalists say ‘anyone responsible for the failed 2020 coup’ against the current CM should not be given the reins of the government

September 25, 2022 06:25 pm | Updated September 26, 2022 08:55 am IST - New Delhi

Congress MLAs arrive at Rajasthan Assembly Speaker C.P. Joshi’s residence ahead of a Congress Legislature Party meeting in Jaipur on September 25, 2022.

Congress MLAs arrive at Rajasthan Assembly Speaker C.P. Joshi’s residence ahead of a Congress Legislature Party meeting in Jaipur on September 25, 2022. | Photo Credit: PTI

A full-blown crisis broke out in the ruling Congress in Rajasthan on Sunday with at least 92 legislators belonging to the party and its allies threatening to resign if “anyone responsible for the 2020 failed coup” to unseat Ashok Gehlot as Chief Minister is given the reins of the State government in the State. The MLAs have made the indirect reference to former Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot, who was largely expected to replace Mr. Gehlot.

Mr. Gehlot is slated to file his nomination for the Congress president’s post. Mr. Pilot’s supporters, meanwhile, claim that the legislators will not resign and hand over the government on a platter to the BJP. They dismissed the entire episode as “pressure tactics”.

The central leadership had scheduled a Congress Legislature Party meeting to pick Mr. Gehlot’s successor. The meeting, scheduled from 7 p.m. at his residence, could not take place, as the MLAs were at Cabinet Minister Shanti Kumar Dhariwal’s residence. At 9 p.m., they boarded a bus to Speaker C.P. Joshi’s residence. Minister Pratap Singh Kachariyawas said, “We are heading to Mr. Joshi’s residence to resign. We want to convey our sentiment to the leadership. While we are ready to die for Rahul Gandhi’s campaign against inflation and unemployment, we will not allow those who tried to bring down the Rajasthan government to be given the reins.”

Mr. Dhariwal, a three-term MLA, is a close confidant of Mr. Gehlot.

His name had been doing the rounds as Mr. Gehlot’s successor along with that of Mr. Joshi.

The rebellion comes as a direct challenge to the Gandhi family at a time when its members have ruled themselves out of the race for Congress president. Congress president Sonia Gandhi, former president Rahul Gandhi and general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had given word to Mr. Pilot that he will be made Chief Minister when Mr. Gehlot moves out of the State. The central leadership deputed Ajay Maken and Mallikarjun Kharge, in charge of the party in the State, to be present at the meeting as observers. The script started going awry sometime in the afternoon, when the legislators started queuing up at Mr. Dhariwal’s residence, giving sound bites extolling Mr. Gehlot’s credentials as Chief Minister. In contrast, the residence of Mr. Pilot wore a deserted look. It was not clear till late evening how many MLAs were supporting Mr. Pilot. He, as of now, other than the Gandhi family’s words, did not have anything else to fall back on. Mr. Pilot supporters, according to sources, had insisted that Mr. Gehlot resign from the Chief Minister’s post, before he files his nomination. It was because of this insistence that the central leadership had scheduled the meeting of the Congress Legislature Party.

The slated meeting could not take place despite the fact that, just minutes before the scheduled meeting, Mr. Gehlot had told reporters that traditionally, whenever the Chief Minister is to be chosen at a meeting of the Congress Legislature Party, a one-line resolution is passed empowering the high command to take the final call. He also underlined, that he had already conveyed to the central leadership on August 9, that the reins of Rajasthan should be handed over to anyone who can make the Congress victorious. These comments were aimed at distancing himself from the rebellion by the MLAs.

Around 8.30 p.m., Mr. Pilot , along with MLAs supporting him, reached Mr. Gehlot’s residence. The duo reportedly met and spoke about the ongoing crisis. Party general secretary, organisation, K.C. Venugopal also reached out to Mr. Gehlot.

On Friday, Mr. Kachariyawas had a meeting with Mr. Pilot, when the latter met Mr. Joshi. Mr. Kachariywas demanded that the high command and Mr. Gehlot listen to them.

The Gehlot camp wants anyone but Mr. Pilot in the Chief Minister chair. Party’s State unit chief Govind Singh Dotsara, a leader of the Jat community, which is numerically strong in the State, is now one of the front runners for the post, backed by the Gehlot camp.

Many of the 12 Independent MLAs who are supporting the Gehlot government have also emphatically spoken up in support of Mr. Gehlot.

In the 200-member Rajasthan Assembly, the Congress on its own has 101 legislators. Six BSP MLAs also joined the ranks by merging their party with the Congress. There are 12 Independents supporting the government.

The Pilot camp is still hoping to tide over the crisis. A senior leader close to Mr. Pilot said the threat to resign was an empty one. “It is just some muscle-flexing to accommodate a few supporters in the new set up. The decision will be unanimous.”

In July 2020, Mr. Pilot along with 18 MLAs walked out on the government protesting against Mr. Gehlot. It was contended that it was Mr. Pilot’s efforts as the State unit president that led the party to victory in Rajasthan and therefore he is the rightful claimant to the Chief Minister’s post. However, the rebellion fizzled out because he could not get critical mass to threaten the Gehlot government. He was forced to resign from Deputy Chief Minister’s position and Gehlot’s supporters alleged that he was working in tandem with the BJP to destabilise the Congress government.

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