JAIPUR: The bitter feud between
Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot
and his challenger Sachin Pilot reached the point of no return with Congress on Tuesday sacking the latter as deputy CM and state party chief, accusing him of working at the instance of BJP to topple the state government.
The development was not a surprise as efforts by the Congress brass to get Pilot to withdraw his rebellion failed even as his supporters upped the ante by demanding a change of leadership. School education minister and Jat leader Govind Singh Dotasra, seen as “neutral” in state politics, was named the new PCC chief. The decision to remove Pilot came after a meeting of the Congress legislature party (CLP) called for strict action against rebels on Tuesday.
Four Pilot loyalists — cabinet ministers Vishvendra Singh (tourism) and Ramesh Meena (food and civil supplies) and heads of frontal organisations Rakesh Pareek of Seva Dal and
of Youth Congress — were also sacked. Pareek was replaced by Hem Singh Shekhawat and Bhakar by MLA Ganesh Ghogra. NSUI president Abhimanyu Poonia resigned from his post in support of Pilot.
While BJP demanded that Gehlot face a floor test, Pilot’s plan of action was not immediately clear. He tweeted in Hindi, saying “truth can be rattled, not defeated”, and there were expectations that he might address the media on Wednesday. The parting with Congress was on the cards as Pilot had made it clear that portfolios for supporters or assurances on his tenure as state chief fell way short of his expectations. Gehlot, too, was determined to settle the issue, placing a majority of Congress MLAs in a resort and alleging that BJP was the force behind Pilot.
The next act in the political drama will depend on Pilot's ability to mobilise MLAs and a likely floor test Gehlot may face. BJP leaders like Union water resources minister
said anyone who believed in the party’s beliefs was welcome. So far, Pilot’s camp has said he will not join BJP though there is speculation over various formulae that might include the leader floating a regional party or being accommodated at the Centre in the cabinet. It is, however, clear that BJP and Pilot will need to join forces to challenge Gehlot.
Congress withheld any move to disqualify rebel MLAs, perhaps with an eye on a likely floor test. If the rebel strength does not decline, then disqualification proceedings might be considered. Some Congress leaders, though unhappy over Pilot's exit, felt the leader had over-extended himself.
In the afternoon, Gehlot met governor
with the recommendation to remove Pilot, Singh and Meena from the cabinet. Gehlot later told reporters, "We are not happy (at the sackings) but we were left with no choice. I did not complain to the (party) high command to remove them but their attitude in the past six months was like someone inviting the bull to hit him (‘aa bail mujhe maar')." The CM said the rebels were given another chance to return by convening the CLP again on Tuesday.
“No one is happy, not even the party high command but it was found that they (rebels) had stuck deals with BJP and were talking of forming a new party. As per the anti-defection law, two-thirds majority is needed to break a party, 20 MLAs cannot break the party,” Gehlot said. “We have 120 MLAs, including 107 of Congress. Now you can understand how much is needed to have the two-thirds number,” he added.
“And then you (rebels) are blackmailing (the party), you say there should be a floor test in the assembly. God has given you brains to understand that a Congress MLA cannot demand a floor test, the MLA can only demand a CLP meeting saying that the CM has lost our trust. If the CM does not have majority in the CLP, he will have to resign. Such a demand is justified. But what are you demanding, a floor test. What does that mean? That you will topple the government with BJP’s support,” Gehlot said.
Party insiders said a cabinet reshuffle would take place soon. The three new appointments of Dotasra (Jat), Shekhawat (Rajput) and Ghogra (tribal) in the party organisation have been made keeping in mind the state's social make-up. The Jat community is the largest in the state, followed by Brahmins. Before Pilot, the PCC chief was a Jat, Dr Chandrabhan, who had succeeded C P Joshi, the current assembly speaker. To pacify the Gujjar community, to which Pilot belongs, the party may increase the community’s representation in the cabinet.
Soon after Pilot's tweet, AICC in-charge of the state Avinash Pande said, "True. You rattled the truth a lot in association with the BJP but could not defeat it, nor will you be able to do so in future.
Pilot changed his Twitter profile and identified himself simply as the MLA of Tonk assembly seat and former minister.