One of the rebel Congress MLAs whose suspension of party membership was announced by the spokesperson Randeep Surjewala in a press conference in Jaipur on Thursday is Bhanwar Lal Sharma. As it happens, the name of the seven-time MLA from Sardarshahar, Churu, has often figured over the last three decades whenever attempts have been made to topple the state government.
While in the present case, he is alleged to be trying to topple a Congress government, he has been accused in the past of trying to unseat a BJP government in Rajasthan.
The first known incident of political upheaval in which his name figured dates back to March 1990, when Bhairon Singh Shekhawat was made the Chief Minister after BJP and the then Janata Dal fought elections together. In this case, however, he is said to have played a role in saving the government.
The BJP had 85 seats in the assembly and the Janata Dal 54, but following the rath yatra of Lal Krishna Advani, Janata Dal had pulled its support from the government. However, an alternative faction of Janata Dal emerged, led by Digvijay Singh, which broke from its parent party with 25 rebel MLAs. Bhanwar Lal Sharma was part of this breakaway faction of the Janata Dal, which later merged with the BJP.
From '92 to '93, President's rule was imposed in the state after the violence following demolition of Babri Masjid. Bhairon Singh Shekhawat returned to power in the fresh elections. Sharma had by then been expelled from Janata Dal and had joined the BJP. It was after Shekhawat had returned to power and had gone on a medical trip to the US in '96 that Sharma was alleged to be involved in a plot, in connivance with many other BJP MLAs, to destabilise the government behind his back.
Shekhawat's government went on to complete its full term. Two years later Sharma joined the Congress, and has stayed there since.
The current charges against him, of trying to topple the Ashok Gehlot led government, is being seen in context of these previous allegations. In a statement released on Thursday, the members of the Gehlot camp alleged that the "Former minister and MLA Bhanwarlal Sharma had attempted to topple the government in the 90s. This is his fifth attempt to topple the government but he never succeeded...Bhanwarlal Sharma is again dreaming of forming a government with the help of BJP by being a part of Sachin Pilot's conspiracy," the statement read.
The Congress also released what it claims are transcripts of alleged audio conversations of deal-making between Bhanwal Lal Sharma and another rebel MLA, Vishwendra Singh, and the BJP to try and dislodge the Ashok Gehlot government in Rajasthan.
Sharma has has refuted the allegations. "The audio that has gone viral is fake. They are trying to pressure MLAs using fake audios as the Chief Minister is in trouble," the MLA said. A police case has been registered against the MLAs as well as union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat.
Sharma, who was a minister in the state cabinet led by Gehlot, had five days ago become a vocal supporter of the breakaway faction of the Congress led by Sachin Pilot. This is the second time that Congress has suspended Bhanwar Lal Sharma. He was suspended by the party leadership in 2014 for criticising the leadership of the then vice-president of the party, Rahul Gandhi, following the party's drubbing in Lok Sabha polls.