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Pilot vs Gehlot: Is There More Turbulence Ahead for the Ruling Congress in Rajasthan?

CM Ashok Gehlot with Sachin Pilot (PTI File)

CM Ashok Gehlot with Sachin Pilot (PTI File)

Two recent events indicate trouble may be brewing. One is an FIR against Sachin Pilot’s media manager Lokendra Singh for reporting on "phone tapping of Congress MLAs". Another is the appointment of Manju Sharma, wife of Kumar Vishwas, as a member of Rajasthan Public Service Commission.

Is there another storm brewing in Rajasthan? Will the Sachin Pilot-Ashok Gehlot war resume after a brief lull? So far three rounds of meetings have been held of the special committee which has been set up by Sonia Gandhi to sort out the bad vibes between the two and also to hear out what both sides, especially MLAs supporting Pilot, have to say.

Covid-19 has halted the committee’s work as both Ahmed Patel and Ajay Maken, who are part of this panel, are recovering from the disease. Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot has decided not to venture out and meet people as a precautionary measure.

But two recent events indicate trouble may be brewing. One is the FIR against Sachin Pilot’s media manager Lokendra Singh. He has got relief from court but the FIR was lodged for reporting on “phone tapping of Congress MLAs" during their stay in a hotel in Jaisalmer amid the political crisis in the state.

The FIR was under Sections 505 (1) (whoever makes, publishes or circulates any statement, rumour or report), 505 (2) (statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes), 120 B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code and section 76 of the Information Technology Act (the Act allows police to confiscate any kind of gadget related to information sharing).

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This has been read as targeting and a witch-hunt by the Gehlot government of those who are close to Sachin Pilot. But the government defended itself by saying that this was routine and the state administration doesn’t interfere in the process of law. This has been rejected by the Pilot camp on the ground, maintaining that Gehlot is also the home minister of the state and therefore he had a hand in it. Sachin Pilot, however, has preferred to remain silent on this.

Another issue which has irked some in the Pilot camp is the appointment of Manju Sharma as a member of Rajasthan Public Service Commission. She is Kumar Vishwas’s wife and Vishwas had fought against Rahul Gandhi in Amethi and also coined the word ‘Pappu’ to describe him. Some in the Pilot camp point this out as insensitivity on the part of the Gehlot government. Also other new appointees to the commission are handpicked people close to Gehlot.

A leader who is against Ashok Gehlot said that this could have been an opportunity to reach out to the “rebels”. Someone from among them could have been appointed to placate the angry lot. But those from the Gehlot camp say that Pilot’s silence should not be seen as him falling in line or cooperating with the government. “He is travelling, meeting people and showing huge crowds on Twitter. It’s clearly an attempt to project and pit himself against Ashok Gehlot. There is no denying the fact that he has ambitions and things could go wrong again,” said an insider.

As per Congress sources at Centre, there was an assurance given to Sachin Pilot, but he was asked in exchange not to speak out against Gehlot. So far the central leadership has no complaints but it’s well aware that Rajasthan is sitting on a tinderbox and that an explosion could just be a matter of time. And in that situation, it may be difficult for the Congress leadership to buy any more time.

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