When Jitin Prasada defected to the BJP recently, alarm bells rang in the Congress party; its central leadership became ultra-vigilant and began an exercise to placate an anguished Sachin Pilot with promises.
Sources close to Pilot said that the former deputy chief minister in the Ashok Gehlot-led government of Rajasthan received a call from Priyanka Gandhi on Thursday evening (10 June), during which she assured him that all his grievances would be addressed, sending a clear signal that the party would not like to lose Pilot.
Though the Congress’ central leadership has been in touch with Pilot on a regular basis, Jitin Prasada’s defection has exerted pressure on the party to find a solution to their Rajasthan conundrum.
Pilot Denies ‘BJP Link’
Priyanka Gandhi’s call seemed to have helped, as the following day — 11 June — Pilot attended the Congress party’s symbolic protest against the fuel price hike, after paying homage to his father on his death anniversary in Bhadana, Dausa district.
While talking to the local media in Rajasthan, Pilot completely denied being in touch with BJP leaders. Pilot also took a dig at Rita Bahuguna Joshi, a BJP leader.
She was the president of the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee before joining BJP a few years ago. “She may have spoken to Sachin Tendulkar and not me. She (Joshi) does not have the courage or guts to speak to me,” Pilot said. Recently, Rita Bahuguna Joshi had said that she had spoken to Pilot and had given him a proposal to join the BJP. Pilot clarified, “I have not spoken to anyone in BJP and I have not spoken to Rita Bahuguna Joshi on the phone.”
Priyanka Gandhi’s Efforts to Placate Pilot
If sources are to be believed then Priyanka Gandhi told Pilot that his supporters would be accommodated in the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) and some of them would find a place in Chief Minister Gehlot’s government. Political and organisational appointments are due in Rajasthan.
Rajasthan can have 30 ministers in all, including Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who himself is in charge of 10 ministries including the all-important home and finance portfolios. The state has 21 ministers as of now, including the Cabinet and state ministers. So, nine more can be accommodated as ministers.
Moreover, various appointments are to be made including that of district Congress presidents; other major political appointments are also to be made.In fact, there is ample space to accommodate Pilot’s supporters.
Sources told this journalist that Priyanka assured Pilot that ‘something would be worked out in the next one month or so’.
One source close to CM Gehlot, on condition of anonymity, said that the party is “thinking” of starting the process of appointments in the organisation and also giving a thought to expand and reshuffle the Cabinet in which Pilot supporters may be accommodated.
Why Pilot Faced Disappointment in the Past
It may be mentioned here that a similar kind of assurance was given to Pilot over 10 months back when he, along with 19 of his ‘supportive’ MLAs had revolted against their own government and had discreetly left Jaipur in July 2020, and allegedly stayed in a resort in Manesar near Gurgaon, Haryana. Pilot and his supporters then had spoken against the functioning style of Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, and his supporters had alleged that they were being ignored and sidelined.
Eventually, a three-member committee was formed by the All India Congress Committee to listen to their complaints and find a solution; however, one of its tallest leaders and closest of aides of the Gandhis, Ahmed Patel, passed away. The other committee members are AICC General Secretaries KC Venugopal and Ajay Maken, who is also AICC General Secretary and in-charge of Rajasthan.
Pilot, in a recent interview to a national daily, had said that despite the passage of 10 months, the promises and assurances given to him had not been implemented, and his grievances had not been addressed.
Soon after this news was carried, Pilot met 6-8 MLAS on Thursday, 10 June, and had a closed-door meeting with them.
Pilot Camp’s ‘Pressure Tactics’
What transpired inside closed doors is anybody's guess. However, political analysts feel that it was more of pressure tactic by the Pilot camp. “I feel that it was more to do with exerting pressure on the central leadership to listen to him (Pilot) and sort out their grievances soon, ” said BK Jha, a political analyst.
It seems that Pilot’s ‘pressure tactics’ coupled with Jitin Prasada’s exit from the Congress worked. Sources said that in the next couple of months, or maybe even later this month, the Congress in Rajasthan may see some new appointments.
Team Pilot has also taken a cue from Navjyot Singh Sidhu, under whose pressure Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh was summoned to Delhi to sort out differences.
“It is not right to have two sets of rules, one for Punjab and the other for Rajasthan. Public outrage is now at an alarming level. The time has come for a decision to be made on Cabinet expansion. AICC's committee should now resolve the issue of Rajasthan,” Ved Prakash Solanki, a Congress MLA and part of the Pilot camp said.
The Road Ahead
Solanki has been very critical of the appointments made so far by the Rajasthan chief minister. According to him, no Congress worker has been given a place in the appointments made so far like the one in the RPSC and information commission.
Meanwhile, there are unconfirmed reports that a few of the MLAs who were perturbed with Ashok Gehlot earlier and were part of the Pilot camp, have been won over by Ashok Gehlot again. However, it is difficult to verify this.
MLAs such as the former king of Bharatpur, Vishvendra Singh, who have spoken in favour of Gehlot only a few days back, has also seen with Pilot on 10 June.
AICC General Secretary and in-charge of Rajasthan unit, Ajay Maken, is playing an important role in the unity exercise.
So far, he has been successful. He has been able to bring Pilot and Gehlot together on various platforms and has been able to create a perception that all is well, and the party is united in Rajasthan.
So far so good, but the million-dollar question is how long the truce will prevail.
(The writer is a Jaipur-based senior journalist and political analyst. He can be reached @anilsharma45. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same)
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