Almost five months after Jyotiraditya Scindia walked out of the Congress with 22 MLAs, bringing down the Kamal Nath-led government in Madhya Pradesh, the grand old party is likely to face a trust vote in the Rajasthan state assembly on Friday. Although, as things stand – with the return of Sachin Pilot and his loyalists to the party and with Supreme Court allowing the six BSP MLAs to participate in the trust vote – the party looks poised to prove its majority in the house.
A lot has happened since July 11 when Ashok Gehlot made sensational claims of BJP making nine-digit offers to his MLAs in a bid to topple the government, setting in motion a chain of events that, many say, have seen him fight the most important political battle of his life and emerge much stronger.
Gehlot has been able to place his loyalists in all the important positions with his party’s state unit, and when he walks into the Assembly 35 days after making those allegations, he will command authority over 107 MLAs, including the 18 who had left Rajasthan with Sachin Pilot. Besides this, he is also likely to have the support of some independent MLAs who were believed to be with BJP and RLP but have paid “courtesy visits” to him in the last three days.
News18 looks back at the high-voltage political drama through five politically charged statements that played out in the state over the past one month.
“Kaun nahi chahta hai mukhyamantri banna? Hamari taraf se 5-7 candidate mukhyamantri banne ke laayak honge. Lekin sirf ek hi CM ban sakta hai [Who doesn’t want to be the chief minister? There may be 5-7 candidates from our side who are worthy of the post. But there can only be one CM].”
Ashok Gehlot said this on the day of his July 11 press conference in which he alleged that BJP was offering several crores to his party’s MLAs to jump ship. Gehlot made these statements in response to queries on the rumours about uneasiness within the party regarding Pilot’s ambitions to replace him as the CM of Rajasthan. The late evening press conference was held a day after Rajasthan Police’s Special Operations Group (SOG) sought Pilot's time to record his statements in connection with an alleged ploy to topple the Congress government in the state. Two days later Gehlot herded all his MLAs in Jaipur’s Hotel Fairmont where they continued to stay, except for a brief period when they were shifted to a resort in Jaisalmer.
“Satya ko pareshan kiya jaa sakta hai paraajit nahi [Truth can be rattled, it cannot be defeated]."
On July 14, after Pilot and his loyalists were stripped of their party posts and cabinet portfolios, the former deputy chief minister issued this tweet to indicate that he had dug in his heels and prepared himself for the long haul. A few hours earlier senior party leader Randeep Singh Surjewala had claimed that Sachin Pilot was "ensnared" by the BJP to bring down the Congress government in Rajasthan. "We have given Sachin Pilot many opportunities. He has been an MP and MoS and a state party president. I am sad that Sachin Pilot and some of his colleagues have fallen for a trap laid by the BJP. This is unacceptable," he said. The day saw many acrimonious exchanges between members of the Gehlot and Pilot camps.
"I am ready to face any investigation. The audio doesn't have my voice."
On July 17, in a press conference, Surjewala claimed that audio clips had surfaced in which Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, BJP leader Sanjay Jain and Congress MLA Bhanwar Lal Sharma spoke about "bribing MLAs and bringing down Rajasthan government.” There was an uproar following the release of three purported audio clips which went viral.
Shekhawat termed the allegations baseless and claimed that Gehlot was acting out of vendetta since the union cabinet minister had defeated Gehlot’s son, Vaibhav, in Lok Sabha polls. Following the release of the audio clips, in the likelihood of Gehlot government falling, there were reports about the possibility of Shekhawat returning to Rajasthan as its chief minister. Shekhawat and Sharma were slapped with sedition charges by the police. Last week Rajasthan police dropped these charges prompting the MP from Jodhpur taunting Gehlot “What happened to the sedition case against me, Mr Gehlot?”
Hum jante the ki woh (Sachin Pilot) nikamma hai, nakaara hai, kuch kaam nahin kar raha hai, khali logon ko ladva raha hai [I knew he was useless and wasn’t doing anything. He was just promoting infighting within the party]”.
Only July 20 while addressing the media, Gehlot uncharacteristically fumed at the former colleague, saying that never in the history of the party had the chief of a party’s state unit collaborated in toppling his own government. The Rajasthan chief minister did many things that were atypical of him over the past one month, including lashing out at the Governor and getting his 100 MLAs to camp outside the residence of the Governor in a bid to pressurise him to call an early session of the assembly. In his press interaction, Gehlot alleged that Pilot had been collaborating for six months with the BJP to topple the Congress government in the state. Gehlot had earlier said about Pilot that “Speaking good English and being handsome isn’t everything. What is in your heart for the country, your ideology, policies, and commitment, everything is important.” In interviews following his truce with the party, Pilot said he was hurt by these statements.
"Apne toh apne hote hain [no matter what, dear ones always remain dear]”
Putting an end to the month-long drama and infighting in the party, Gehlot welcomed the former deputy chief minister into the party with this warm gesture.
Though both the leaders were seen sitting side-by-side and addressing their MLAs together, it cannot be said that all is well between the two leaders. Especially with leaders like state transport minister Pratap Singh Khachariyawas, considered to be very close to Ashok Gehlot, being served notices by the Enforcement Directorate. Moreover, contentious issues like the upcoming cabinet reshuffle remain. Questions like whose loyalists are accommodated and which portfolios are given to whom will have to be answered before the party high command can breathe easy. But for now, the trust vote, moved by the BJP, will come as an opportunity before the two leaders to put up a united front to showcase their unity.