Amid increasing speculation over Congress leader Sachin Pilot’s next move and rumours that he is about to launch a new party on June 11, sources in the party have termed such rumours “baseless”.
For the past five years, Pilot has been engaged in a tussle with Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. Though Pilot has not made a comment on the rumours, sources close to him have informed Outlook that he is not launching a new party on June 11.
June 11 holds significance in Rajasthan as it marks the death anniversary of Rajesh Pilot, the former Congress leader and Sachin Pilot’s father, who died in a road accident on this day 23 years ago.
A source close to Pilot told Outlook, “There are no such plans. Every year, the death anniversary of Rajesh ji is marked in Dausa. This time also, there is a similar programme. However, Pilot is still firm that the corruption charges against the BJP should be investigated by the ruling Congress tenure.”
Another Congress MLA close to Pilot told Outlook, “He may be offered the role of Congress president in the state ahead of the polls as the party is rearranging the structure here. But, again, it depends on Pilot whether if he wants to take it up or not.”
Rajasthan is slated to have assembly elections later this year. In recent months, Pilot has carried out a yatra and has held a protest over inaction against alleged corruption during the chief ministerial tenure of Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Vasundhara Raje. While raising the issue of corruption, he has targeted his own party’s government in the state repeatedly.
Reconciliation with Pilot is permanent: Gehlot
Dismissing speculations that Pilot may form a new party on his father Rajesh Pilot’s death anniversary, Gehlot in a recent interview said the reconciliation between them is “permanent”.
Referring to the meeting of both leaders with the Congress high command on May 29, Gehlot affirmed the lasting nature of their reconciliation but refused to divulge the specifics of their agreement and also criticised the media for needlessly exaggerating the issue.
Gehlot highlighted that Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge, Rahul Gandhi, and KC Venugopal, who were present at the meeting, emphasised the importance of working with love and harmony and resolving any differences. He emphasised that the matter at hand is not about any individual but about the country and the state.
However, when asked about the political crisis in 2020, Gehlot said he has forgiven everyone.
In 2020, Pilot rebelled against Gehlot with his loyalist MLAs and camped outside of the state, plunging the party’s state unit in crisis. He was stripped of his positions of the state party chief and deputy chief minister at the time.
Gehlot said, “I have forgiven everyone. When we emerged from the hotel in Jaisalmer (where nearly 100 MLAs stayed during the political crisis in July 2020), I said ‘forget and forgive’. I still maintain that all Congress members, even those who disagree with me, today, the Congress needs everyone, and the country needs the Congress.”
Congress denies report of Pilot's new party
The Congress party on Friday categorically denied reports that Pilot might announce the formation of a separate party on the death anniversary of his father on Sunday.
KC Venugopal, the Congress General Secretary (Organisation), said the party remains united and will collectively participate in the upcoming Rajasthan assembly elections. The statement came a day before a planned event to honour Rajesh Pilot on his death anniversary.
“I do not give credence to rumours. The fact is that the Congress president, Rahul Gandhi, held discussions with Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot, and, subsequent to those discussions, we affirmed our commitment to stay together. That is the official stance of the Congress party,” said Venugopal in an interview with PTI.
The high command's truce meeting
The Congress high command had called a meeting in Delhi on May 29 over the developing situation in Rajasthan.
Pilot had come out in open rebellion and had given a two-week ultimatum to the Gehlot government over inaction against alleged corruption during BJP’s Raje’s tenure as CM. Earlier, he had held a sit-in protest and statewide yatra over the issue.
In April, Pilot sat on a one-day sit-in protest, pressurising his own party leaders to act on the alleged corruption that the party once accused BJP of. A month later, the 45-year-old leader took out a five-day Jan Sangharsh Yatra from Ajmer to Jaipur.
“Congress President Malikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi ji had a four-hour-long discussion with Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot on upcoming Rajasthan elections and decided to fight elections unitedly. Both were in agreement that they will fight elections unitedly and make Congress win Rajasthan state polls,” said Venugopal after the meeting got over at Kharge’s house in Delhi.
However, the leaders did not reveal the responsibilities that shall be given to Pilot.
The verbal duels between Gehlot and Pilot supporters over the past three years have now snowballed into an all-out war in the wake of the recent crisis.
In 2018, after Congress came to power in Rajasthan, Pilot was promised that the job of chief minister would be shared between him and Gehlot. While Gehlot was sworn in as the chief minister, Pilot was appointed as his deputy. Unhappy with the post, Pilot rebelled in 2020 along with his 18 loyalist MLAs and went to Delhi and camped for over a month which resulted in a political crisis in Rajasthan. Eventually, he was removed from the post of Deputy CM and the head of the state unit of the party.
In the 200-member Rajasthan assembly, the ruling Congress has 106 MLAs, the BJP 71, the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) three, the CPI(M) and Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) two each, and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) one. There are also 13 Independent MLAs.