Jaipur/ New Delhi:
As he proclaimed “I am still a Congressman” this morning, Sachin Pilot appeared to be making an outreach to the Gandhis, stressing that chatter of him joining the BJP is an exercise “to malign him with the Gandhis.” Sources in the party said that his shutting down talk of a BJP move has had the desired effect and that Congress leaders are not averse to lowering the pitch.
Mr Pilot’s comments came as his party began a new round of punitive action against him for “anti-party activities.” A notice sent to him gives him till Friday to explain why he should not be disqualified as the member of the legislative assembly. The bulk of his punishment however was served on him yesterday when he was removed both as Deputy Chief Minister of Rajasthan as well as from the post of president of the Congress branch in the state.
“I am not joining the BJP,” Mr Pilot said this morning, restating the case he made to NDTV on Sunday when he torched the crisis now subsuming the party. At that time, the 42-year-old claimed that he had 30 MLAs with him – enough to bring down the government of his then boss, Ashok Gehlot.
The Congress has acted somewhat schizophrenically in handling Mr Pilot – the central party leadership has urged him repeatedly to return to the fold – even while ruling out a favourable response to his demand that he be promoted to Chief Minister, if not now, then in the final year of this government’s term which ends in 2023.
Congress leaders dispatched to Jaipur from Delhi like RS Surjewala have repeatedly said that Mr Pilot must meet with the party privately to arrive at consensus.
In a version of tough love, however, it has scrapped all posts held by Mr Pilot as well as two ministers who have said they are firmly in his squad. Separately, Mr Gehlot does not appear to be predisposed towards contracting the crisis, as exemplified in his statements on Mr Pilot working with the BJP to disassemble his government.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has been in direct contact with Mr Pilot, party sources have said. Her mother Sonia and brother Rahul Gandhi have sent him a series of messages through trusted emissaries, Mr Surjewala, the Congress spokesperson, emphasized yesterday. He also said that the Gandhis have a close and long connect with Mr Pilot – Congress-speak for VVIP status within the party.
Sources close to Rahul Gandhi told NDTV two days ago that Mr Pilot “is always in his heart” and that the two young leaders talk often and share “mutual regard and respect.”
Mr Pilot told NDTV today that it was after Rahul Gandhi stepped down as Congress chief last year that Mr Gehlot ramped up the campaign to humiliate him in Rajasthan. The new soft line on the Gandhis being taken by him could create room for a review of his plans. Mr Gehlot insists he has more than the 101 MLAs he needs to remain in power. Sources say the BJP, in touch with Mr Pilot, is thirsting for a trust vote now to test Mr Gehlot.
A press conference first announced by Mr Pilot for 10 am this morning, then delayed to 1 pm, has been cancelled. Placing the Gandhis at the centre of a new approach – by both the Congress and its latest rebel – could help chisel out room for a climbdown.