The power struggle between Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his deputy Sachin Pilot, that has been simmering for long, spilled out into the open on Sunday, threatening the stability of the 20-month-old Congress government in Rajasthan.
In a statement released through his media adviser, Mr. Pilot said the Gehlot government was now in a minority after over 30 Congress MLAs and some independent lawmakers had pledged support to him. Mr. Pilot also said he would not attend a meeting of the Congress Legislature Party scheduled for Monday.
Several MLAs who support Mr. Pilot, have moved to a hotel in Manesar on the outskirts of Delhi while others have moved in with relatives in the Gurgaon area, all in BJP-ruled Haryana, a source close to him told The Hindu.
Mr. Pilot was miffed over a notice issued by the Special Operations Group (SOG) of Rajasthan police seeking time from him to record his statement in a case of conspiracy and sedition registered after attempts were allegedly made by the BJP to bribe Congress MLAs to switch sides during last month’s Rajya Sabha elections.
“The police sending a similar notice to the Chief Minister was just a pretext to harass Mr. Pilot,” the source in his camp said.
A source close to Mr. Gehlot, however, said Mr. Pilot was playing into the hands of the BJP, and there had been no communication between them for months. “Mr. Gehlot is very accommodative but gave up on Mr. Pilot after a while,” the source said.
Other sources said efforts by senior Congress leader Ahmad Patel to broker peace did not succeed. The central leadership despatched party communications chief Randeep Surjewala and Ajay Maken to Jaipur on Sunday.
In the 200-member State Assembly, the Congress has 107 MLAs, while the BJP has 72. The ruling party has the support of one Rashtriya Lok Dal, two CPI(M) and two Bharatiya Tribal party MLAs. All 13 Independents earlier supported the Congress, but three of them are now accused of being part of the conspiracy to topple the government.
Mr. Gehlot, who had earlier accused the BJP of trying to topple the State government, said in a tweet on Sunday that the police notices, which had been issued to several persons in the case registered on Friday, had been interpreted in a wrong way.
“The CLP had made a complaint to SOG about poaching attempts made by the BJP leaders. Notices have been issued to CM, Deputy CM, chief whip and some Ministers and MLAs for recording of their statements,” he said.
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Mr. Gehlot called a meeting of Congress MLAs and independent legislators supporting his government on Sunday night in an apparent show of strength, while the Opposition BJP questioned his claim that huge sums of money were being offered to the ruling party MLAs.
Transport Minister Pratap Singh Khachariawas, who joined an interaction of some MLAs with journalists at the Chief Minister’s residence, had said Mr. Pilot would attend Monday’s CLP meeting.
Mr. Pilot was likely to meet the MLAs loyal to him before deciding on a course of action, according to the source close to him.
“If the action had been taken by a BJP government, one could understand that. But this is being done by the Chief Minister of the Congress party against his own deputy,” the source added.
The probe has been initiated against MLAs Om Prakash Hudla, Suresh Tak and Khushveer Singh, who had earlier extended support to Congress. The ruling party has distanced itself from them and the Pradesh Congress Committee has removed their names from the list of associated members.
A large number of legislators reportedly handed over letters expressing their faith in Mr. Gehlot’s leadership even as hectic activities were witnessed at his residence in Civil Lines. The Ministers who met Mr. Gehlot and discussed the political situation included Raghu Sharma, Harish Chaudhary, Tikaram Jully, Pramod Jain and Subhash Garg.
Following the arrest of two persons by the SOG in the case after interception of their telephonic conversation, the Anti-Corruption Bureau has registered a preliminary inquiry and launched investigation against three independent MLAs for their alleged involvement in offering money to a few of their counterparts for toppling the State government.