New Delhi: Ahead of the Congress Legislature Party to be held in Jaipur on Monday, the Congress on Sunday dispatched two of its senior leaders to the state capital to talk to its MLAs as power tussle between Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and his deputy Sachin Pilot turned severe. The party's general secretary in-charge of the state, however, asserted that the government was stable and will complete its full term.
The action by the Congress leadership came in the midst of widening rift between Gehlot, who convened a meeting of MLAs, including of Independent legislators supporting his government in what appeared to be a show of strength, and Pilot, who is camping in the national capital since Saturday and skipped the meet.
Sources in the Congress said the party cannot afford to lose another state, as it has already lost Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh even after forming the government following assembly elections there.
While the top Congress leadership was tight-lipped about the strategy for Rajasthan, some senior leaders said efforts were underway to keep all 107 MLAs together to avert any potential threat to the government in the wake of Pilot's claims of support of 30 MLAs.
The Congress is also assessing the future moves of Pilot and his bargaining power with the BJP, which the senior leaders alleged is the principal spoiler in the game.
Sources in the BJP said that the party is in a "wait and watch" mode over the unfolding crisis and will wait for the outcome of the show of strength between Gehlot and his deputy before deciding on its next course of action.
Pilot, who is also the Rajasthan Congress president, is said to be in touch with some BJP leaders but saffron party sources declined to comment on whether it has held any discussion with him.
A BJP leader said the rebel Congress leader seems to have "made up his mind" and does not look in any mood to reconcile with Gehlot's leadership.
The Congress leaders are also working overtime to ensure a show of strength at the meeting of the Congress Legislature Party to be held in Jaipur on Monday. Gehlot and other leaders are said to be in touch with party allies as also with independents MLAs supporting the government.
The events in Rajasthan come almost four months after the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh headed by Kamal Nath was toppled, with his bete noire Jyoritaditya Scindia switching sides to the BJP, along with his supporters.
However, in-charge of Rajasthan affairs in the Congress, Avinash Pande told PTI that the government was stable and would complete its full term. He said he has tried to reach out to Sachin Pilot, who is incommunicado for the last two days, and have left messages for him.
The Congress has 107 MLA in the 200-member state assembly, and also has support of at least 10 independent MLAs. The BJP has 72 MLAs and has the support of three MLAs of Rashtriya Loktantrik Party run by Hanuman Beniwal.
As the Congress grappled with factionalism, Pande wondered who were the MLAs who are purported to have sided with Pilot. "All Congress MLAs are in touch with me and the government in Rajasthan is stable and will last its full term," he said.
Meanwhile, three of the MLAs considered to be close to Pilot - Danish Abrar, Rohit Bohra and Chetan Dudi, returned from Delhi to Jaipur and extended their support to Gehlot saying they are and will remain loyal soldiers of the party. Pande also said party chief Sonia Gandhi has been updated on the developments in Rajasthan.
The Congress leadership has sent two of its senior leaders — Ajay Maken and Randeep Surjewala — as central observers to Jaipur to talk to its legislators and save its government.
The latest tussle in the state was triggered after the Special Operations Group (SOG) of Rajasthan Police issued notices to Gehlot and Pilot after registering an FIR on Friday against two people, who have been detained, for their alleged involvement in horse trading of Congress MLAs for toppling the state government.
The supporters of Pilot said the notice was sent to the deputy chief minister was to humiliate him. On the Rajasthan police issuing notice to Gehlot also to record his statement, they said the notice to the chief minister, also holding the charge of state home affairs, was only an "eyewash". "Everyone should cooperate with Rajasthan SOG. There is no harm in joining the probe," Pande said.
Pande also accused the BJP of trying to destabilise the Congress government in Rajasthan. "Their attempt is to create an atmosphere of uncertainty in Rajasthan. But, they will not succeed in their attempts," he added.
Surjewala also tweeted that "the ruling party first bought MLAs in Madhya Pradesh and now in Rajasthan. everyone has to understand that the crisis is not just on one state but the entire democracy." he said in a tweet in Hindi.
Amid the crisis, senior party leader Kapil Sibal on Sunday said he was "worried" for the party. "Will we wake up only after the horses have bolted from our stables," he said on Twitter, a day after Gehlot accused the BJP of trying to topple his government by bribing Congress legislators.
Congress Rajya Sabha MP Vivek Tankha said Sibal's worry is every party member's concern. "Kapil ji your worry is every party member's concern. It's time to strengthen the party to fight forces who have only 1 agenda :: weaken congress and our democratic values and institutions," he tweeted.
A power struggle between Gehlot and Pilot has been on since the Congress' central leadership picked the senior leader for the chief minister's post, but has now deepened with those in Pilot's camp claiming that there have been repeated attempts to undermine his authority.
Gehlot had on Saturday accused the opposition BJP of trying to topple his government by offering legislators large sums of money and said his administration is not just stable but will complete its five-year term.
The BJP had asked Gehlot to prove his allegation of horse-trading or quit politics, and claimed he was targeting the opposition party as he was unable to check the infighting in the state Congress.
Meanwhile, Scindia took a swipe at the Congress alleging that talent and capability find "little credence" in the party. "Sad to see my erstwhile colleague, Sachin Pilot too, being sidelined and persecuted by Rajasthan CM, Ashok Gehlot. Shows that talent and capability find little credence in the Congress," he tweeted.
(With inputs from PTI)