Gehlot’s “pilot project”: uproot Sachin from Rajasthan
It seems the Gehlot camp is in no mood to settle down unless they have hammered the last nail into the Pilot camp’s coffin. So far Sachin Pilot has lost the office of Deputy CM and RPCC president, the rebel MLAs are running the risk of getting disqualified from the assembly and an FIR has been lodged against his aide.
A common refrain by the Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s supporters on social media platforms these days is – a mali knows when to weed out the decaying plant. Mali means gardener and Gehlot also belongs to the Mali caste of Rajasthan. For them, the decaying plant is none other than the Congress rebel Sachin Pilot.
However, the Gandhi family has the power of attorney of the garden (Congress) of which Gehlot has been put in charge in Rajasthan. And Pilot is considered to be a close aide of the Gandhi family. Despite his open rebellion and a failed attempt to topple the Congress-led Rajasthan government, the high command gave an indication that it is willing to give him a second chance.
The moment the Congress opened the window for Pilot, Gehlot snapped. He literally slammed the door on the Pilot camp. The message from Jaipur was clear; Gehlot and his aides will not back down unless they hammer the final nail into the Pilot camp’s coffin.
For the first time on July 15, the senior Congress leader and three-time Rajasthan CM directly accused Pilot of hobnobbing with the Bharatiya Janata Party. He accused that despite being the Deputy CM and state unit (RPCC) president, Pilot was involved in horse-trading of the Congress legislators in Rajasthan.
Slamming the “Delhi English media anchors”, Gehlot claimed that he was in possession of the evidence to prove the purported deals and Pilot’s involvement. By Thursday evening it was clear that Rajasthan's political crisis is set to become murkier and uglier. Then the audio clips of the alleged conversation between Pilot camp MLAs, a BJP “handler” and a Union Minister started surfacing.
The conversations in these tapes are damning, and is a clear acceptance of the purported “deals” that the Gehlot camp has been talking about.
It appears that the leaks were targeted to ensure the loss of face for the former Rajasthan deputy CM, and to weaken his links with the Gandhi family. The audio clips surfaced on the day Pilot had reiterated that he will not join the BJP; he had also approached the Jaipur High Court to challenge the disqualification notice issued to the rebels by the Rajasthan assembly speaker.
According to sources, the Gehlot camp is in possession of more tapes which could incriminate Pilot camp, and take away his chances of retreat.
Audio tapes: Pilot’s MLAs, BJP “handler” and a union minister
Fearing further attempts of horse-trading of the MLAs, the Congress has lodged all Gehlot supporter legislators in the Fairmount Hotel of Jaipur. Senior party leaders, including national spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, have camped in Jaipur.
Meanwhile, the leak of three audio tapes of the alleged conversation between the Pilot camp MLAs and the BJP leaders took the internet by storm late on Thursday night. It marked the first ugly chapter of many to come in the Gehlot Vs Pilot battle.
The veracity of these tapes needs to be established by the investigative agencies.
The first audio clip is of an alleged conversation between Congress Deeg MLA Vishvendra Singh and Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. The people involved in the telephonic conversation discuss the “amount” which has been taken by the aides in “Delhi”. They discuss the timing of the meeting "in Delhi around 11 AM". While one person claims that they are planning to take the “legal route”, the other person tells him to speak in detail when they meet in person as they shouldn’t “talk over the phone in detail”.
On Friday morning, the Congress officially released the tapes which were earlier leaked on the social media platforms and to the journalists. Congress national spokesperson Surjewala also released the transcripts of these tapes.
The most daunting claim of the Congress was that Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat was behind the purported attempts of poaching of the Congress MLAs. One BJP leader Sanjay Jain was handling the “deals”, on his behalf, with rebel MLAs such as Bhanwar Lal Sharma.
The second tape has an alleged conversation with Pilot camp’s MLA Sharma.
In the third tape, there are references to “amount” and “Sachin’s list” and the caller is allegedly speaking with MLA Sharma. Later in this conversation, Sharma insists on speaking with Shekhawat. The caller puts the call on hold and allegedly connects another person to the conversation who introduces himself as one “Gajendra Singh Shekhawat”.
Incidentally, Sharma has a reputation of attempting such misadventures in Rajasthan politics. He had attempted a rebellion against the BJP state government led by late Bhairon Singh Shekhawat in 1996.
Surjewala, on Friday morning, demanded the registration of a first information report with the Rajasthan Police’s Special Operation Groups (SOG) against Union Minister Shekhawat, BJP leader Jain and Congress MLA Sharma.
“On prima facie, Union Minister Shekhawat is involved in the conspiracy of toppling the Congress-led Rajasthan government and an FIR should be lodged against him by the SOG. And the matter should be investigated,” Surjewala said.
“It appears he could influence the investigation, hence, a warrant should be issued and Mr Shekhawat should be immediately arrested,” he further demanded.
Soon after the presser, an FIR was lodged against Jodhpur BJP MP and Union Minister Shekhawat, Congress MLA Sharma and BJP leader Jain.
Asiaville tried to get Shekhawat’s response to the allegations made by the Congress; however, the attempts remained unsuccessful. His only response, that too an indirect one, to the developments came on Twitter: “Where there is dharma, there will be victory”.
यतो धर्मस्ततो जयः— Gajendra Singh Shekhawat (@gssjodhpur) July 17, 2020
Meanwhile, Rajasthan BJP chief Satish Poonia has questioned the authenticity of these tapes.
राज्य में @INCIndia की अंदरूनी लड़ाई को @ashokgehlot51जी ने @BJP4India को बदनाम करने के लिए इस्तेमाल किया है कल जारी आडियो बनावटी है;कांग्रेस ब्लैकमेलिंग की राजनीति कर रही है,सरकार सदन में बहुमत व बाहर जनमत खो चुकी है पूरा घटनाक्रम जनता और न्यायपालिका को भ्रमित करने षड्यंत्र है। pic.twitter.com/gqE53FQ0xP— Satish Poonia (@DrSatishPoonia) July 17, 2020
The long-standing war between Gehlot and Pilot
The Delhi media might have woken up to the political crisis of Rajasthan after the skeletons started tumbling out of the closet last week. However, those aware of the developments of Jaipur would without a doubt agree that the Gehlot and Pilot camp have been at odds for at least six months now.
There were unconfirmed reports that Pilot had stopped visiting the secretariat and majorly operated from his own house. In January, Pilot had openly slammed the Gehlot government over the infant deaths in Kota. While Gehlot had sent his cabinet ministers to defend the state government, he himself brushed off the crisis saying: “Pilot is the Pradesh Congress Committee president. It is his right to say this about the government. It is not the opposition only, which could ask questions.”
In a TV interview, Rajasthan CM Gehlot himself confirmed the reports of the long-standing war with his former deputy: “We have not spoken in the last 1.5 years. We are not on talking terms.”
He further alleged that Pilot was conspiring against his government from day one.
No retreat for Pilot
The Pilot camp’s attempt to topple the Gehlot government has failed miserably. Pilot tried to put on a brave face by claiming that he is not joining the BJP and that he continues to remain a member of the Congress party.
But the fact is that Pilot has lost the first round of the bout with Gehlot.
He has already lost the office of deputy CM and RPCC president, the sword of disqualification is hanging over the heads of 19 rebels, and his aides have been sacked from the Gehlot cabinet. To add insult to injury, on Friday, two of his aides – Vishvendra Singh and Bhanwar Lal Sharma – were suspended from the primary membership of the party.
सत्य को परेशान किया जा सकता है पराजित नहीं।— Sachin Pilot (@SachinPilot) July 14, 2020
In the wake of the Rajasthan political slugfest, the former RPCC president had claimed that “truth can be troubled, it can’t be defeated”. However, his move to hire senior Supreme Court advocates Harish Salve and Mukul Rohatgi to argue for the dissident MLAs in Rajasthan HC has reduced the sympathy factor. In fact, it was an indication as to which side has been backing the Pilot camp.
Salve had served as the Solicitor General of India during Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Rohtagi had been the Attorney General during PM Modi’s first tenure. Both Salve and Rohtagi have appeared in the cases which are considered a top priority for the BJP or the Modi government.
Incidentally, in March, when Jyotiraditya Scindia had tried a coup in Madhya Pradesh, Rohtagi had represented Shivraj Singh Chouhan and BJP MLAs in the Kamal Nath floor test case in the Supreme Court.
The leak of the tapes and the Congress’ allegations has weakened Pilot’s positioning in front of the high command and his supporters.
With every calculated and timely step, Gehlot has cornered Pilot. The three-time Rajasthan CM has dragged the young turk to the extent of no return.
The timing of the audio tapes seems to be part of that strategic move. The Congress was considering extending an olive branch to Pilot if his camp would have agreed to an unconditional return. The son of Congress’ veteran leader Rajesh Pilot might have been accommodated later at the AICC level; however, the Gehlot camp has slammed the door on Pilot.
By Friday, Gehlot made the party take a u-turn and question Pilot’s stand on the claims being made in the audio tapes with the purported conversations between his aides and Union Minister Shekhawat.
In the coming days, if Pilot doesn’t back down, the slugfest against his camp is expected to intensify.
The incumbent camp seems to be in no mood to settle down unless they have hammered the last nail into the Pilot camp’s coffin.