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Jitin Prasada exits Cong in UP, party gets a shiver in Rajasthan

Pilot got an opportunity to remind the party leadership that the assurances given to him had not been kept
Last Updated 16 June 2021, 23:12 IST

Halfway through its term, the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government in Rajasthan appears to be approaching an air pocket again as the Sachin Pilot issue resurfaces. Pilot, who was Deputy Chief Minister of Rajasthan, had staged a rebellion less than a year ago, in July-August 2020, but had walked back into the party after its central leadership assured him that his demands would be addressed.

The last week exit of yet another ‘young’ leader of the Congress in another state – Jitin Prasada, for long considered to be close to Rahul Gandhi, left the party to join the BJP in Uttar Pradesh – gave Pilot an opportunity to remind the party leadership that the assurances given to him had not been kept. This time, though, Pilot let MLAs supporting him do the talking.

As soon as Prasada announced his exit from Congress, the media immediately smelled the trouble brewing in Rajasthan. Sure enough, MLAs of the Pilot camp went public with their grievance, making statements on public platforms and social media.

Pilot himself, however, was attempting to douse the fire before it went out of control, attending the Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee's virtual meeting, led by state party president Govind Singh Dotasra, around the same time as Prasada formally joined the BJP last Wednesday. Two days later, Pilot participated in a Congress protest against the Centre over rising fuel prices. MLAs loyal to Pilot were present at the protest, including Mukesh Bhakar, Ramniwas Gawriya, Hemaram Choudhary and former MLA Rameshwar Dudi.

Interestingly, in late May, Hemaram Choudhary had submitted his resignation from the Assembly to the Speaker. Choudhary said he had been anguished over some issues and the alleged stoppage of development work in his constituency.

Meanwhile, Chaksu MLA Ved Prakash Solanki has alleged that some Congress MLAs from both the Pilot and Gehlot camps were talking about their phones being tapped. Choudhary and Solanki were among the 18 MLAs who were part of Pilot’s rebel group last year.

Pilot had only days before Prasada’s exit reminded his party leadership, during an interview to an English daily, that the issues he had flagged last year had not yet been resolved.

Amid growing impatience in his camp over the delay in cabinet expansion and other appointments, Pilot flew to Delhi on Friday, reportedly to meet the Congress high command. Earlier that day, responding to a journalist’s question on a claim made by UP BJP leader Rita Bahuguna Joshi that he, too, would soon join her party, Pilot retorted: “I have also heard this. Rita Bahuguna Joshi has said that she has spoken with Sachin, it is possible that she has spoken with Sachin Tendulkar. She doesn’t have the guts to speak with me.”

"A three-member panel was appointed to address (Pilot’s) demands, but it has not met since August. It's been almost 11 months and MLAs feel that we are being neglected," a senior Congress leader told DH on condition of anonymity. More recently, it was expected that the matter would be resolved after by-elections in Rajasthan in April. Two months have passed since, but the Congress panel – one of whose members, Ahmed Patel, who was Sonia Gandhi’s go-to man for political troubleshooting, died of Covid in November last – has not uttered a word on its recommendations.

Having done nothing to resolve the Pilot issue, the Congress once again finds itself facing the tough challenge of keeping its Rajasthan unit, and government, together. While the rift between the two camps is widening, its impact is being felt on governance.

Nine ministerial berths have been vacant for over a year now, and those departments are being run by bureaucrats. These portfolios, which were headed by Pilot and two of his loyalists, Vishvendra Singh and Ramesh Meena, include the PWD department, Rural Development, Tourism, Panchayati Raj, Food and Civil Supplies, etc.

Patience, says Congress

Accommodating Pilot loyalists within the party's organisational structure and the government could calm tempers. Congress spokesperson Supriya Srinate, however, recently counselled patience, saying that the party had made Pilot the country's youngest deputy CM and so he should wait if he wants more. Such statements aren’t exactly endearing to Pilot’s MLAs.

Pilot’s loyalists, who supported him during the political tussle last year and were left in the lurch at the end of it, are irate over the delay in cabinet expansion and other appointments. "Our patience has run out. A cabinet expansion that was on the cards has been pending for the last one year. It is clear that CM Gehlot is resisting it. Even party postings have been delayed. Moreover, half of the commissions are being headed by bureaucrats,” another Congress MLA from the Pilot camp told DH on condition of anonymity.

Other than Pilot camp MLAs, the six former BSP MLAs who supported the Gehlot government during the political storm last year, are also waiting for cabinet expansion. But Gehlot isn’t about to give in to Pilot. His camp is making attempts to win over Pilot loyalists to their side.

"The cabinet expansion could have helped bring about a truce, but it has been delayed due to Covid and the bypolls. The Pilot loyalists, who claim that they are not being heard, should realise that the way they went about the revolt last year was wrong. Instead of reaching out to their own party leaders, they reached out to the BJP. In Punjab, the crisis in Congress was solved in 10 days because Navjot Singh Sidhu reached out to Capt Amarinder Singh, not to the BJP,” senior political analyst Om Saini said.

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(Published 16 June 2021, 17:59 IST)

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