New Delhi: The 18 Sachin Pilot loyalists who have rebelled against the Ashok Gehlot government in Rajasthan represent a reconciliation in a caste rivalry even as they reinforce some old grudges.
They also comprise some senior Congress members who have been resentful since the 2018 assembly elections over what they see as a raw deal from Gehlot.
Then there are the vocal Pilot cheerleaders who have made no secret of their loyalty towards the former MP and Union minister.
Here are some of the stand-out names in this list of rebel MLAs from the Pilot camp.
Two of the most prominent rebels that have made headlines are Bhanwar Lal Sharma and Vishvendra Pratap Singh. The two were suspended Friday by the Congress after leaked audio recordings purportedly revealed they had been in discussions with the BJP to topple the Gehlot government in exchange for money.
Both the MLAs had managed to win their seats in the 2013 assembly elections despite an anti-Congress wave in the state. The party won just 21 seats in the 200-member assembly in that election.
Sharma has denied that the voice in the tapes is his.
Sharma has rebelled against the Gehlot government and the Congress high command before. After the drubbing faced by the Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Sharma had referred to then party president Rahul Gandhi as a “parachute politician”, saying the “leader should not be imposed on the party”.
He was, however, given a party ticket in the 2018 assembly elections — a fact believed to be linked to his proximity to Pilot.
Singh, the other MLA at the centre of the audio-tape controversy, was sacked as tourism minister last week at the same time that Pilot was removed as deputy chief minister.
The former Rajasthan Congress vice-president has never shied away from displaying his loyalty to Pilot. Last week, he tweeted old pictures of Pilot from different protests — including those showing injuries sustained by the leader. There was no caption, but the photos were largely seen as a bid to show the “struggles” Pilot had faced.
On Saturday, he took on Gehlot for his jibe at Pilot that being “handsome” and speaking “good English… isn’t everything”.
“Former PM Rajiv Gandhi was also handsome, and he spoke good English too,” he tweeted.
The caste game
Many of the MLAs in Pilot’s camp represent the Gujjar, Meena and Jat communities. Rebel MLAs Indraj Gurjar and Gajraj Khatana are from the Gujjar community, to which Pilot also belongs.
In June last year, when Gehlot blamed Pilot for his son Vaibhav Gehlot’s defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, Khatana had publicly defended Pilot.
Pilot is seen as a prominent face of the community — in December 2018, when the Congress high-command was struggling to decide who to appoint as Rajasthan chief minister, Pilot’s supporters had organised protests to make a push for his appointment.
Gujjars account for a substantial voting population in the state and have a dominant presence in the eastern districts of Dausa, Bharatpur, Karauli and Sawai Madhopur.
The Pilot camp also has four MLAs from the Meena community — Murari Lal Meena, Harish Meena, P.R. Meena and Ramesh Meena.
There were tensions between the two communities last year after the Gujjars demanded a share in ST reservation, which put off the Meenas, a Scheduled Tribe. However, the differences were settled after leaders of the Gujjar community switched their demand to seek a share in the OBC quota.
The fresh bonhomie between the Gujjars and the Meenas has been described as a “feat” by Pilot supporters.
“The fact that he has been able to bring both Meenas and Gujjars together is quite a feat. In fact, he has more Meenas than Gujjars in his camp,” a close aide of Pilot told ThePrint.
The Pilot camp also includes five Jat MLAs — Ramniwas Gawriya, Vishvendra Singh, Brijendra Singh Ola, Hemaram Choudhary and Mukesh Bhakar — who represent seats in the community strongholds of Nagaur, Jhunjhunu and Barmer.
Jats are believed to nurse a historical grudge against Gehlot for what they see as the unfair denial of CM-ship to community leader Mahipal Maderna in 1998.
Following their rebellion, Bhakar and Ramesh Meena were sacked from the posts of Rajasthan Youth Congress president and food minister, respectively.
‘Old guard miffed with Gehlot’
In 2018, many Congress workers who were supporters of Choudhary tendered their resignation after he wasn’t given a cabinet rank in the Gehlot government.
Another MLA in the Pilot camp, Deependra Singh Shekhawat, is believed to have nursed similar grouses with Gehlot since he wasn’t given a ministerial portfolio. He even boycotted the oath-taking ceremony to show his disappointment. Shekhawat was among many in the Congress ‘old guard’ who were disappointed on allegedly being sidelined after the 2018 results.
Another MLA in the Pilot camp, Ved Prakash Solanki, had earlier objected to the appointment of Neeraj Dangi as the party’s Rajya Sabha candidate by Gehlot.
Other rebel MLAs include Rakesh Pareek, president of the Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Sevadal. On 14 July, Pareek had openly declared mutiny against the Gehlot government.
''कुछ तो कारण रहा होगा''
— MLA Rakesh Pareek (@MlaPareek) July 14, 2020
Gajendra Singh Shaktawat, another MLA in the Pilot camp, was one of the first to receive a notice from the Congress for not attending the 13 and 14 July legislative party meetings held at Gehlot’s residence in light of Pilot’s rebellion.
MLA Amar Singh Jatav has reportedly not been in touch with his family for over a week, which has become a cause of concern for them. Pilot was reportedly instrumental in getting him a ticket from the Bayana constituency. Another rebel MLA, Suresh Modi, from Neem Ka Thana constituency, is a known Pilot loyalist who shared a video of him and other MLAs at the Manesar resort where they are holed up.