New Delhi: Who is responsible for the current political crisis in Rajasthan that threatens the stability of the Congress-led government — Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot or his deputy Sachin Pilot?
On the face of it, Pilot looks like a Congress rebel who is bent on breaking the party to realise his chief ministerial ambition, in cahoots with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). At least four senior Congress functionaries who are in the know, however, told ThePrint that it’s Gehlot who has “deliberately” triggered the crisis to “get rid of” his deputy and potential successor.
The functionaries say the CM went for the kill after he felt assured of a majority in the 200-member state assembly. In the recent Rajya Sabha election, two Congress candidates together got 123 votes, including the party’s 107 MLAs, 13 independents and three from smaller parties.
‘The CM baited him and Pilot took it’
The trigger for Pilot’s rebellion was a notice issued to him, the CM and others by the Rajasthan Police’s Special Operation Group (SOG) to record their statements in connection with the arrest of two BJP leaders for their alleged attempt to topple the Congress government. Rajasthan Police sources in Jaipur told ThePrint that after getting “instructions” to send notices to the CM and the deputy CM, the SOG had gone back to the police brass for re-confirmation. The notices were sent only after the CM, who holds the home portfolio, re-iterated his instruction.
Pilot could see that the notices might have been sent to many people, but he was the main target, said Congress leaders.
They said Pilot was sensing an attempt by the CM to “finish him politically”, and had conveyed his apprehensions to the high command last week. He didn’t hear from the Delhi leadership, and then came the SOG notice, provoking him enough to launch the rebellion.
“This is what Ashok Gehlot wanted. He has thoroughly discredited Pilot. If Gehlot is able to save the government, which he is sure about, it would deliver irreparable damage to Pilot’s standing in the party. The CM baited him and Pilot took it,” a senior party leader explained to ThePrint.
Congress functionaries in the government said the “hostility” between the CM and his deputy was there for all to see. In one of the video-conferences attended by all district collectors and police officers, when the chief secretary asked Gehlot whether he should invite the Deputy CM to address them, the CM snapped, “Arre chhodo (forget it).” Pilot, who was also attending the video-conference, could hear that snub. Gehlot was even putting a squeeze on the release of funds to the public works department, held by Pilot, said a Congress functionary close to the deputy CM.
Why did Gehlot take such a risk?
So, why did Gehlot play such a risky gambit that may even end up bringing his government down? Congress sources say that the CM was preparing the ground for post-2023. If Pilot hung around till the next election, he would be the undisputed successor to Gehlot in the party and also in the government if the Congress were to get a renewed mandate, said another senior Congress functionary.
“The high command had denied CMship to Pilot in 2018 but there is no way that the young leader could be denied primacy in the state Congress after 2023 by when Gehlot would be around 73 years old. The veteran leader must, therefore, get his putative successor out of the way. Unfortunately, Sachin couldn’t read his long-term game plan,” this functionary said.
In the immediate context, Gehlot wanted Pilot to be removed as state Congress president, a post he has held since January 2014.
“Even if Pilot was marginalised in the government, he held sway in the party as the state unit president. Gehlot wanted to end that. But the real objective of the SOG notice was to trigger a situation where Sachin goes the Jyotiraditya Scindia way, without destabilising the government,” said the leader quoted above.
If Pilot is out of the way, Gehlot can focus on re-building his son Vaibhav’s political future that received a setback in the last Lok Sabha polls when he lost in his father’s stronghold, Jodhpur.
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