Rajasthan: If the rebel MLAs are disqualified, the majority mark will drop, making it easier for Sachin Pilot’s chief adversary Ashok Gehlot, the Rajasthan Chief Minister, to win a floor test
Jaipur, July 16:
Sachin Pilot and other Congress rebels today challenged in the Rajasthan High Court a move to disqualify them as MLAs in a dramatic escalation of the party’s crisis in Rajasthan. Mukul Rohatgi and Harish Salve, both top government lawyers in BJP regimes, are representing them in the petition. Sachin Pilot – now Petitioner No. 7 against the Congress – has reached a point of no return, said party sources, by going to court just a day after Priyanka Gandhi Vadra spoke to him on the phone. The Congress has fielded one of its sharpest legal experts, Abhishek Manu Singhvi.
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Notices served to the rebels by Rajasthan Speaker CP Joshi yesterday asked them to explain by Friday “anti-party activities”, failing which they would be disqualified. The Congress sent the notices via SMS, WhatsApp, email and post and even pasted documents in Hindi and English on walls outside their homes across Rajasthan to make sure they get the message.
If the rebel MLAs are disqualified, the majority mark will drop, making it easier for Mr Pilot’s chief adversary, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, to win a floor test. If the rebels can avoid being disqualified and are allowed to vote as Congress members, Mr Gehlot’s government could fall. He needs 101 MLAs to vote for him in the 200-member assembly and claims he has the support of 106, which has been contested by team Pilot.
The BJP has 73 MLAs and needs at least 30 to take power in Rajasthan. Congress sources fear Mr Pilot is working to reach that target while maintaining strong denials in public to avoid disqualification.
Mr Pilot yesterday proclaimed he was not joining the BJP, raising talk of a rapprochement with the Congress. But party sources cast doubts on his intentions based on “evidence” from a hotel near Delhi where some 20 rebel Rajasthan MLAs have been camping.
Extra rooms are being booked at the hotel in Gurgaon, the sources said, reading it as a dead giveaway that while talking peace on one hand, Mr Pilot is trying to add to his rebel squad.
Sources say Mr Pilot has not sought any appointment either with Congress president Sonia Gandhi or the other Gandhis, showing a singular lack of interest in any truce after declaring that rumours linking him to the BJP were an “attempt to malign him with the Gandhis”. Both Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra reportedly reached out to him in the past few days.
Mr Pilot, say sources, has been cold to any offer that does not involve him being named Chief Minister, a post he was denied after the Congress won the 2018 Rajasthan election. In a truce formulated by Rahul Gandhi, Mr Pilot, 42, settled for the post of Mr Gehlot’s deputy, but that did not end their feud. Mr Pilot alleges that the Chief Minister undermined and humiliated him constantly over the next two years.
The fight boiled over when on Friday, Mr Pilot was asked to answer questions on alleged attempts to buy Congress MLAs for a coup by the BJP. Mr Gehlot had ordered the investigation last month when he put up Congress MLAs at a hotel for 10 days allegedly to keep them away from inducements by the BJP.
Mr Gehlot, who has been on the offensive against his former deputy, was yesterday reportedly asked to dial down his attacks, which included a jibe that “good English and handsome looks is not everything.” The Chief Minister also doubled down on his allegations of horse-trading and accused Mr Pilot of deal-making.
The Congress has accused the BJP of pulling out the big guns to defend Sachin Pilot’s rebel squad and using its government at the centre and agencies to target Mr Gehlot. The party referred to tax raids on two aides of the Chief Minister on Monday, a day after Mr Pilot went public with his rebellion.