Sympathy for former Rajasthan deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot within the Congress appears to be waning as he continues to lead the rebellion against chief minister Ashok Gehlot.
Soon after Pilot rushed to Delhi along with 18 other legislators on July 11, a host of Congress leaders, including Kapil Sibal and Vivek Tankha, expressed concern over the developments in the grand old party.
“Worried for our party. Will we wake up only after the horses have bolted from our stables?” Sibal tweeted on July 12.
His views were echoed by Tankha. “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 responded on Twitter.
The sympathy factor increased after Pilot was removed as Rajasthan’s deputy chief minister and the state Congress chief for twice skipping the legislature party meetings in Jaipur with several party leaders calling it unfortunate and sad.
Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, senior spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi, former union minister Salman Khurshid, Shashi Tharoor Jitin Prasada and Priya Dutt, all hoped that the situation would be salvaged and that a reconciliation was possible.
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra spoke to Pilot as did former union finance minister P Chidambaram who advised Pilot to seize the opportunity and meet the party leadership to discuss and resolve all the issues.
Both Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former party chief Rahul Gandhi were also keen to see an immediate end to the impasse and deputed some senior leaders to hold discussions with Pilot.
All that happened before July 14.
Hours before the Rajasthan Congress Legislature Party (CLP) met on July 14 morning, the emissaries reached out to Pilot to resolve the crisis.
Prasada and Dinesh Gundu Rao apparently told Pilot that if he did not want to attend the CLP meeting, he should at least address the media in Delhi and clarify that he was a “loyal solder” of the Congress and would not do anything to bring down the state government.
But Pilot turned the offer and insisted on his demand for immediate removal of Gehlot as the chief minister. For his part, Gehlot also hardened his stance. The same day, Pilot was sacked as the deputy chief minister and the head of the state unit. On July 15, the speaker of the Rajasthan assembly sent a disqualification notice to Pilot and the 18 MLAs loyal to him. On July 16, Pilot and the dissident lawmakers challenged this notice in the Rajasthan High Court. Around the same time an audio tape surfaced, allegedly referring to a plot to overthrow the state government.
All of this seem to have made it difficult for the Congress to attempt a reconciliation with Pilot. On July 20, much to the party central leadership’s discomfiture according to people familiar with the matter, Gehlot lashed out at Pilot, calling him useless and worthless.
As the legal battle continued, Sibal, representing the Congress in it, seemed to suggest that Pilot was being over ambitious.
“I want to know from my good friend, what is it you want now? You can’t be a chief minister with 20-25 people, in any case you can’t become chief minister. If there is any other grievance, let us know, at least tell the people of this country. What is this dissent that you are talking about, dissent about what? And if you are not happy with the way of functioning of a particular person, you should tell us, we will talk about it, and then why are you put up in another state, which does not belong to you or which you are not a member of the legislative assembly or why have you taken people there, whoever is supporting you?” he said while addressing a virtual press conference on July 24.
“Is it just flexing muscles, what is it? You say, you don’t want to join BJP and we believe you. If that is the case and you are still a Congressman as you say then why don’t you attend Congress meetings and express your view, whatever you want to add or is it that you have already made up your mind and already have a deal with somebody on this. , I don’t know, but, at least you should make it open as I am asking these questions openly from you, nothing against you. As a person I am a little intrigued, and the party is a little intrigued at your acts,” he added.
On Monday, Chidambaram questioned Pilot’s position and his silence.
“I spoke to him many many days ago. I have not spoken to him in the last 10 days or so, he has not called me either. It seems to me that he is embracing the BJP. In fact, he should be the first to stand up and say, `Pplease call the assembly session and then we will know which party he belongs to and what he will do,” he said.
He also questioned Pilot’s silence on calling the assembly session.
“Mr Pilot has maintained that he belongs to the Congress party. He also maintains that Mr Gehlot has lost his majority. The BJP’s position is that it is not an occasion to call a session. Now, where is Mr Pilot’s stand? And why is Mr Pilot silent on calling a session? I think, the question should be put to Mr Pilot? It will be very useful to know what his answer is,” Chidambaram added.
A Congress leader involved in attempts to manage the crisis said Rahul Gandhi was initially keen on doing whatever it took to retain Pilot but that this “sympathy too seems to be waning now.”
While Pilot could not be reached for comments, his supporters said the Congress lawyers who represent Gehlot in courts will speak the chief minister’s tune. “One one hand, the Congress is saying doors are open for Pilot and on the other the chief minister hurls abuses on him and he is not even reprimanded. Isn’t this double speak?” a leader close to Pilot said.