NEW DELHI :
Sending a clear message that rebellion within the ranks will not be tolerated, the Congress leadership on Tuesday stripped Sachin Pilot of the post of deputy chief minister (CM) and Rajasthan unit president. Two state ministers who supported him were also removed. However, the numbers game in Rajasthan is still not over with Pilot loyalists continuing to contest CM Ashok Gehlot’s claim that he has a comfortable majority in the assembly.
The political situation in the state has now become even more interesting with the BJP demanding a floor test. It said the state government should prove its majority since there was infighting within the ruling alliance. BJP leaders alleged the Congress was busy in a power struggle when the state was coping with the pandemic.
“With a heavy heart and regret, Congress party has taken certain decisions today. Sachin Pilot, Vishvendra Singh and Ramesh Meena are being removed from the post of deputy CM and ministers, respectively," the party’s chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala told reporters in Jaipur after a meeting of the legislative party on Tuesday afternoon, where the Congress legislators demanded action against the rebelling leaders.
Soon after the meeting, Gehlot met governor Kalraj Mishra and recommended their removal. While Gehlot alleged that Pilot was “playing into the hands of the BJP", the ousted leader put out a cryptic tweet saying that “truth can be harassed, but not defeated".
In the run-up to the announcement of his removal from the key posts, Pilot claimed the support of 30 party MLAs, raising questions of the state government’s stability. Over the weekend, however, Gehlot made a formidable attempt to show that he had the numbers, leading to the eventual disciplinary action against Pilot after the latter refused to attend two legislative party meetings.
While Gehlot’s faction claimed the support of over 105 legislators, Pilot loyalists said they have 22 MLAs, and were expecting six more to join them. In the 200-member Rajasthan assembly, the Congress has 107 MLAs and the BJP has 72. The halfway mark is 101. Pilot’s faction, too, is keen on a floor test.
“A vertical division can be seen in Congress party in Rajasthan, with the sacking of the deputy CM. Now, if (the) CM wants to expand his cabinet, he should first prove majority on the floor. He will not send a good message if he does it without a floor test," said Gulab Chand Kataria, a senior leader of the BJP from Rajasthan.
The developments are significant because Pilot, 42, has been associated with the party for over 15 years, and was known to be a close confidant of former party chief Rahul Gandhi. Pilot has served as a two-time Lok Sabha member, Union minister, was made the state unit chief in 2014 and took over as deputy CM in 2018.
“Dear Ashok Gehlot, closing your eyes does not make the sun disappear. There is weakness in the structure of your house, and you are blaming the BJP national leadership for this," party vice-president Om Prakash Mathur said. Mathur added that the differences between Gehlot and Pilot had started from the day Gehlot became the CM, and the BJP did not have a role in this. He said that Pilot has to decide his future course of action, if he wants to form his own party or join BJP.
Surjewala said the Congress has chosen Govind Singh Dotasara to succeed Pilot as the state unit chief. Some of those associated with Pilot were removed from internal posts, while others resigned in protest.