All is Well That Ends Well

A handshake and a smile. Sachin Pilot (right) meets Ashok Gehlot (center) at Chief Minister’s residence Photo / Yash Goyal
By Dr. Yash Goyal

Congress party gets an Independence Day gift in Rajasthan

JAIPUR (TIP): Hitting hard at Opposition BJP for its interference in the internal affairs of the Congress party, the Gehlot Government in Rajasthan on Friday, August 14,  won the Confidence Motion by a voice vote in the state Legislative Assembly after over 3 hours of debate.

The  victory of the Congress  in the  State has  sent a clear message  to the saffron party that its  Mission Lotus in the garb of ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’ would not be applicable in a majority led government anymore,  not in Rajasthan, at least. The ruling members in the House blamed the judiciary and the Governor  for causing hurdles in the democratic  process. Opposition BJP without creating an uproar in the House could not move its ‘no confidence motion’ notice against Gehlot government.

Proving that he is with the Congress, Pilot interrupted the BJP legislators in the House claiming that he was the ‘strongest warrior’ of the Congress party despite his new sitting arrangement.  ‘I am sitting on border line close to the Opposition members but I will protect my party at all costs. This is not important where one sat but what mattered was what people had in their heart and mind about him”, he warned.

This was all made possible as a ‘Ram-Bharat Milap’ was witnessed in the Pink City a day ago when a known Jadugar turned Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot, former Deputy CM, came face to face with warmth and anticipating to revive the Congress government’s image and prestige in public once again.

It seems to give the impression that All Is Well with the Congress Party in Rajasthan. However, only time will tell whether there was a genuine feeling of brotherhood in the hug, or it was another feigned show of amity.

After a major revolt,  and leading the rebel camp with 18 MLAs for the last  31 days, Pilot was given a warm welcome on his arrival at CMR by AICC’s top functionaries K C Venugopal (now RS MP from Rajasthan), Avinash Pandey, Randeep Surjewala, Ajay Makan and PCC President G S Dotasra.

Gehlot and Pilot shook  hands enthusiastically, while Gehlot was also seen holding Pilot’s right upper arm as a gesture of unity and political bond. Both were wearing face masks and no emotions were captured, but their glowing eyes gave the impression that both were pleased.

The brief Ram-Bharat-Milap was followed by Congress Legislature  Party meeting in which Pilot faction also made attendance. Still scared of poaching,  the  Gehlot camp MLAs returned to the hotel, whereas Pilot flock’s MLAs returned  to their residences separately.

Ending  a month-long  tug of war between the CM and his rebel faction that was piloted  by Sachin with 18 dissidents over ‘political ambitions of youngsters’ in Rajasthan now appears to be settled down, like dust storm in the sandy desert. Rebels have cooled down their feet, and Opposition party (BJP) gave up the hope to be king makers  in case Gehlot government  fell.

Four days ahead of the Assembly Session slated for August 14, a sudden somersault  by  Pilot, who was sacked on twin posts of Deputy-CM and PCC President, has stunned everyone , especially the ambitious rival BJP that has projected ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’ since 2014 and tried this slogan in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Manipur and Goa to ‘topple’ the governments.

After  quandary with Gehlot government, keeping only Twitter handle open, and hiding with his flock under alleged  Haryana Government’s hospitality’, Pilot got an appointment very late and met the Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi & Priyanka Gandhi Vadra with his 18 supporting MLAs. This is utterly surprising  that when Pilot first moved to Delhi in early July  to approach and raise his resentment to the party high command, he was not heard because Gehlot had disclosed  alleged audio-clips on ‘horse trading deal struck’  in which the names of a veteran Congress MLA Bhanwarlal Sharma and Union Minister for Jalshakti Gajendra Singh Shekahawat, LS MP from Jodhpur in Modi Government surfaced on police records.

The deadlock of government’s functioning has been partially paralyzed since July 12 when Pilot had revolted with his camp against CM threatening that the Gehlot government had come in minority. The soup was thicker when  Gehlot had sacked Pilot and two other ministers Ramesh Meena and Vishwendra Singh for their alleged involvement in poaching with huge cash secretly offered by the BJP for toppling the ruling  government having majority of 119 MLAs in a house of 200. Pilot was furious and moved to coup when he was served a notice by SOG under section 124-A of IPC along with CM, and Chief Whip.

The instability of the state government has revolved around Gehlot vs Pilot over supremacy, Speaker vs Court (High Court and Supreme Court) over notice to rebel MLAs under the  Anti-defection Law (10th schedule of the Constitution) by the Speaker C P Joshi, Gehlot vs Governor over calling early assembly session, and  Gehlot vs BSP’s Mayawati over direct merger of six MLAs with the Congress last year.  After facing the legal challenges under the Article 174 of the Constitution and rejecting Gehlot cabinet’s three-time proposal to convene the assembly session on a short notice,  the Governor Kalraj Mishra  finally issued order to convene the session on August 14,  covering 21 day- notice.

The BJP appointed Governor’s clash with a  non-BJP Chief Minister in Rajasthan was nothing new.  In Delhi, it was CM Arvind Kejriwal vs Lt Governors, Mamata Banerjee vs Jagdip Dhankar in West Bengal, Uddhav Thackeray  vs Bhagat Singh Koshiyari in Maharashtra, P Vijayan and Arif Mohd Khan in Kerala, V Narayana Swami vs Lt Governor Kiran Bedi in Puducherry, and K Chandrasekhar Rao vs T Sundararajan in Telangana.

Pilot faction got scared when it calculated that its herd hiding with a meagre  19 rebels  could not cut the ice, and rival party (BJP) which he did not want to join at this juncture would not support him despite alleged ‘poaching’ of some MLAs. Gehlot succeeded in keeping 102 MLA’s in  ‘political quarantine’  under unprecedented security cover, and when time came,  paraded his loyalists before the Governor.

Later Gehlot’s confidence weakened when BJP and BSP moved to the courts against merger of all six BSP MLAs into the Congress last year. Probably under pressure of raids by Central investigating agencies like IT, ED, CBI against Gehlot’s  one MLA,  friends and relatives, the government bowed down and adopted damage control exercise. The Special Operation Group (SOG) of state Police)  dropped the sedition charges (section 124-A of IPC) in two cases  of horse trading exposed in alleged audio-conversation clip between one BJP Minister and a Congress MLA. The case is now referred to the  slow-paced Anti-Corruption Bureau.

A hypothesis indicates that the government’s move to go on back foot was a big respite for  Pilot camp.  Though Pilot  was now free from SOG but not having desired support of other party MLAs and deficiency of outside support from rebel party to kick out the ruling government, perhaps they returned to alma mater with their list of grievances.  This time Pilot also lacked active support of Gurjar community on which he won the assembly poll in 2018 from the Tonk constituency. It was the political compulsion to live inside the party and sit in the assembly as a legislator and not to face any ‘disqualification’ clause under Anti-defection Act by flouting any whip of the treasury bench.

A question remains  unanswered whether a three member AICC Committee comprising Ahmed Patel, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra  and K C Venugopal will redress 19-MLAs’ grievances and  look into demands which include re-allocating cabinet berths to two MLAs . Will Pilot get any parallel post in the cabinet of Gehlot who bluntly  described Pilot as ‘Nikkama, Nakara and Conspired against his own government”. However,  in his face saving move Pilot received a warm welcome to Jaipur where he held a series of individual media interactions. Pilot, son for late Union Minister Rajesh Pilot and former MP Mrs. Rama Pilot, assured that he has not asked for post but there should  be  no vendetta politics. This is a hidden deal when Gehlot says he was unaware under what conditions Pilot group has come back to the party fold.

Why and how the veteran MLA Sharma, whom the SOG police has failed to search in the audio-conversation case in the country, made a surprise  landing at CM’s  House after Pilot met Gandhi family in Delhi remains a mystery.   Gehlot had openly assailed Sharma’s attempts to destabilize his government and former CM B S Shekhawat’s government and turning coat frequently in the past.

At a recently held CLP meeting, a number of MLAs and a few Ministers have expressed their displeasure at homecoming of ‘rebels’.  A million-dollar question would chase CM how he is going to appease Independent MLAs who had merged their affiliation with the Congress – 6 BSP turned Congress MLAs, and BTP legislators while fulfilling his promise of ministerial reshuffle in near future after assembly session. Another big puzzle   Congress party will have to address  is how to accommodate   the Pilot camp in the state in remaining term of the government.

Is this a victory of Ashok Gehlot, 3rd timer Chief Minister in Rajasthan, without a floor test in State Legislative Assembly after a suo moto surrender of Sachin Pilot with his 18-rebellion Congress MLAs  before the Congress High Command for an ‘amicable mediation’ on his flock’s grievances ?  It seems to be a win-win situation more for Pilot and less for Gehlot government as ‘horse trading of lawmakers’ is unpredictable alike Cricket in future too.  Political Pandits feel after some time Pilot may raise his ante against Gehlot rule if more rebels join to saddle him (Gehlot) out of power. Gehlot urged his MLAs to forgive him and move, but would it be so easy for the voters who have noticed fragility of oldest party, the Congress. Caste politics would again emerge as a threat to the Gehlot who is always known as Jadugar of Politics.

(Dr Goyal is a senior journalist, and has  worked for PTI and The Tribune)

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