Sachin Pilot remains unmoved by near-unprecedented attempts by the Gandhis to settle his differences with the party. Sources in the Congress told NDTV that over the weekend, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra phoned Mr Pilot three times – but without a detente. “He was business class,” said a senior Congress leader plaintively, referring to Mr Pilot’s personal equation with the Gandhis, the First Family of the party. At several press conferences, Congress spokesperson RS Surjewala has boldfaced the high regard the Gandhis have for Mr Pilot. “He was considered family,” he said.
Since Sunday, Mr Pilot has been in Delhi – and at a resort in adjoining Gurugram – while he contemplates what next for his team of about 20 MLAs who have so far been by his side in his dust-up with the Congress. Mr Pilot has ruled out a resolution that does not involve him being promoted to Chief Minister, a post held by Ashok Gehlot, a Congress veteran who has been accused by Mr Pilot of brazenly undermining and humiliating him since the Congress was elected to Rajasthan in December 2018.
Mr Pilot said at the time that he should be made Chief Minister since the victory was on account of his hard work as the Congress chief in Rajasthan which saw the party cadre being reinvigorated and voters being persuaded to abandon the BJP. Mr Gehlot, however, had the overwhelming support of the majority of MLAs. Rahul Gandhi split the difference with Mr Gehlot and Mr Pilot being named Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister. It was not an arrangement that bought peace. However, till the weekend, the sparring was somewhat in check.
The lid was blown off the box by Mr Pilot being asked by the state police, which reports to Mr Gehlot, to explain his alleged role in a conspiracy to remove the Gehlot government by parcelling out cash to Congress legislators. Furious, Mr Pilot departed Jaipur for Delhi to demand an intervention.
There are some signs of a misadventure – Mr Pilot originally said that he had 30 MLAs with him; that number appears closer to 20, which means Mr Gehlot can win a trust vote, if needed. Congress sources told NDTV yesterday that “the threat level for the government is down” – an assessment that may explain Mr Gehlot dialling up the dial with personal attacks on Mr Pilot even as the party’s central leadership said it seeks a reconciliation. The fact that the party is speaking in two very different tones indicates the scale of what the Congress is contending with – sources say Rahul Gandhi is keen on retaining Mr Pilot in the party and has asked Mr Gehlot to ease up on his remarks. Yesterday, these included Mr Gehlot proclaiming Mr Pilot may be all form and no substance; “being handsome” and speaking “good English” are not enough, Mr Gehlot said.
Mr Pilot’s immediate challenge is to ward off being disqualified as an MLA along with the 19 legislators who are on his side. The Congress has sent the group a notice that gives them till tomorrow to explain their anti-party activities including skipping two meetings this week chaired by Mr Gehlot in Jaipur.
Mr Pilot has yet to indicate his next move, where he might find his best self. The vacuum has seen the principals in the drama all taking recourse in speaking their truths. So, Sachin Pilot said he is not joining the BJP; Ashok Gehlot announced he has evidence of Mr Pilot offering bribes to dismantle his government; and the Congress spokesperson said Mr Pilot is still welcome to return to the Congress but must stop hiding out in Gurugram, which is BJP turf, and return to Jaipur.