A team of the Rajasthan Police has reached the two fancy resorts in Manesar, near Delhi, where 18 Congress legislators have been camping since the weekend. For now, the person of interest among them as far as the police is concerned is Bhanwar Lal Sharma, who, according to the Congress party, is heard on tape discussing bribes from the BJP as part of a conspiracy to bring down the Rajasthan government headed by Ashok Gehlot.
This morning, the Congress announced that it has suspended Bhanwar Lal Sharma and another MLA, Vishwendra Singh, who is also, according to the party, recorded while discussing cash transactions with the BJP. They have denied the allegations and said the taped conversations are not authentic.
The Haryana police has shown up at the two resorts, about 5 kms apart, in what portends a showdown with the visiting cops from Rajasthan. The Congress has said that Mr Pilot, by choosing hotels in Haryana as a holding pen for his team, has sought “the cover of the BJP”, the party which governs Haryana.
Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has accused Mr Pilot, who, till Tuesday was No 2 in his government, of being directly involved in the alleged horse-trading. Sources close to Sachin Pilot today told NDTV that he cannot take Congress offers of rapprochement, being conveyed through Priyaka Gandhi Vadra and others, as authentic, given that the party has taken harsh action against him.
Mr Pilot, after being sacked as Deputy Chief Minister and president of the Congress unit in Rajasthan, has gone to court to challenge the move to disqualify him and 18 others from the Rajasthan assembly. The Congress says they acted against the party by defying instructions to appear at two meetings this week that were chaired by Mr Gehlot. Mr Pilot is being represented by top lawyers Harish Salve and Mukul Rohatgi. The former was Solicitor General in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government; the latter was Attorney General for the Modi government till 2017.
The long-running discord between Mr Gehlot as Chief Minister and Sachin Pilot as his next-in command went nuclear on the weekend with Mr Pilot arriving in Delhi to claim that he had 30 MLAs with him, enough to bring down the government; the only resolution, he told Congress sources, would lie in his being named Chief Minister.
His road trip from Jaipur to Delhi came after the Rajasthan police asked him to answer questions about his alleged role in a BJP scheme to pay Congress MLAs to abandon the party. Mr Pilot told the media that this attempt by Mr Gehlot to leverage state machinery against him was the breaking point. Since then, the Congress has repeatedly stressed that though it cannot accept preconditions from him, it would like him to engage in talks to find a way out of the current crisis.
A senior Congress leader close to Sonia Gandhi, the party president, has told Mr Pilot that while it is unlikely that he can be allowed to return to a position of power in Rajasthan, he can be accommodated at the centre. “Rajasthan is my karmabhoomi,” Mr Pilot has told his supporters today, rejecting that solution as unviable.