Congress MLAs were holed up at a resort near Jaipur, where a second legislature party meeting will be held Tuesday as the top leadership tries to woo back dissidents led by Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot.
IMAGE: A poster of Rajasthan Congress president Sachin Pilot, put up by workers following its removal, in Jaipur. Photograph: PTI Photo
Former party president Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi are among the senior leaders who have been in touch with Pilot, sources said.
The second meeting of the Congress Legislature Party was announced several hours after the first one ended Monday afternoon, skipped by Pilot and 18 other party MLAs, according to one party source.
The Congress had issued a whip, asking all 107 Congress MLAs to be present at Monday’s meeting at the chief minister’s home. In addition, 15 independents MLAs and those from the allies, were invited.
Party leaders said 106 of these 122 MLAs attended, a claim contested by the Pilot camp.
IMAGE: Congress leaders and MLAs board a bus towards a hotel after a meeting with CM Ashok Gehlot, in Jaipur, on Monday. Photograph: PTI Photo
The meeting expressed support for the Gehlot government, adopting a resolution urging “strong disciplinary action” against any party office-bearer or CLP member who does anything to weaken the government or the party.
But it stopped short of naming Pilot, who also heads the party’s state unit.
Before the meeting, AICC spokesperson Randeep Surjewala also adopted conciliatory tone, saying Pilot and other MLAs could still attend it.
“Doors are open for Sachin Pilot and other MLAs. They will be heard and solutions found. This is the discipline of the party,” he said.
Apart from Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, Ahmed Patel, former Union finance minister P Chidambaram and AICC general secretary K C Venugopal are learned to have spoken with Pilot.
IMAGE: Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, Congress leaders Randeep Surjewala, Ajay Maken and others gesture during a MLAs meeting, at CM residence in Jaipur, Monday, July 13, 2020. The meeting, meant to be a show of strength for Gehlot, comes a day after Deputy CM Sachin Pilot declared open rebellion against Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. Photograph: PTI Photo
As the CLP meeting ended, MLAs sat in waiting buses which took them to Fairmont hotel on the outskirts of Jaipur.
Hours later, Surjewala announced the CLP will meet again at 10 am on Tuesday at the hotel, a move seen as another attempt by the party to get the dissidents back into the fold.
“We request Sachin Pilot and all other MLAs to come,” he told reporters, adding that they will also be asked in writing.
“They are requested to come and discuss how we can strengthen Rajasthan together and serve the state’s eight crore people,” he said.
He said their problems will be solved. “Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are ready to listen to everyone and find solutions.”
Pilot has been upset since he was denied the Rajasthan chief minister’s post after the December 2018 assembly elections.
On Sunday, he claimed to have the backing of 30 Congress MLAs and ‘some independents’.
Those close to him disputed Gehlot’s claim that his government had a majority, and said this is proven in the assembly and not at the CM’s house.
Sources close to him also ruled out the possibility of Pilot joining the BJP. Among those who did not show up for the meeting at CM’s house was Tourism Minister Vishvendra Singh.
He posted a collage of four photos on his Twitter handle, showing Pilot taking part in protests when he was in the opposition.
“With an ailing family member in Delhi,” Singh tweeted before the meeting.
Just hours before meeting, Income Tax officials searched premises in Jaipur said to be linked to local party leaders Rajiv Arora and Dharmendra Rathore, an action criticised by the Congress.
The CLP resolution blamed the BJP for the crisis. On Saturday, Gehlot had accused the opposition party of trying to lure away Congress MLAs.
Asked about speculation that the Bharatiya Janata Party may support the Pilot camp from outside, party’s state president Satish Poonia said “all options” are open.
He said young leaders in the Congress are always “neglected and sidelined”.
In the 200-member assembly, the Congress has 107 MLAs and the BJP 72. In the past, the ruling party has claimed the support of 13 independents, two MLAs each from the CPM and the Bharatiya Tribal Party, and one from the Rashtriya Lok Dal.
The Congress had rushed AICC general secretary Avinash Pande, Ajay Maken and Surjewala to Jaipur as observers at the meeting, amid the power tussle between its two Rajasthan leaders.
The party had issued a whip ahead of the CLP meeting, indicating disciplinary action against any MLA who failed to turn up.
Pilot, however, had made clear in a statement on Sunday night that he would not attend the meeting.
The current crisis began Friday when the Rajasthan Police sent a notice to Pilot, asking him to record his statement over an alleged attempt to bring down the government.
The same notice was sent to the chief minister and some other MLAs, but Pilot’s supporters claimed that it was only meant to humiliate him.