deepened on Monday as the Speaker’s role in disqualifying MLAs was debated in the
Gehlot left no one in any doubt that his aim was to push Pilot out of the Congress as he upped the ante and described the younger leader as ‘naalayak, nikamma and nakara” (worthless and useless) and said that in his 7 years as the state unit chief, Pilot had ‘done nothing’ of any consequence to add value to the prospects of the Congress in the state.
“Never in the history of India have I ever heard that the head of a party conspired to topple its own government. I have never heard of this till date” Gehlot tweeted.
Worse followed. An MLA purportedly from his camp said he was offered money by Pilot to cross vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Rajya sabha elections. Giriraj Singh Malinga, MLA from Bari constituency, said: “I had spoken to Sachin ji, he asked me to switch sides and I refused. This is a wrong thing, I will not do it for money,” Malinga said.
“I said we left Bahujan (Bahujan Samaj Party) in 2008, where one has to give money to get a ticket. In Congress and BJP, that is not the system. I was offered a lot of money. Sachin Pilot
had said money is not an issue, you ask what you want and you will get Rs 35 crore or more, but I said it is wrong.” Reacting to this, Pilot said, “I will be taking appropriate and strictest possible legal action against the MLA Giriraj Singh Malinga who was made to make these accusations. I am sure more such concocted allegations will be thrown at me to cause aspersions on my public image. But I shall be unfettered and remain firm in my beliefs and convictions.”
Gehlot’s supporters and seniors in the Congress, like former minister and Governor Margaret Alva joined battle in criticising Sachin Pilot.
"Where did you want to reach in such a hurry? Whether you wanted to become chief minister at 43 and prime minister at 45 by joining the BJP?" the former Rajasthan governor asked of 42-year-old Pilot.
Gehlot was relentless and set the full weight of the state police machinery on Pilot and his supporters. The Special Operations Group (SOG) which caused all the trouble in the first place when it sent a notice to Pilot for collaborating with the BJP to bring the Gehlot government down, went to the Haryana resort where the rebel MLAs were saying, but had to return empty-handed as the resort refused to let the police in. Haryana is ruled by the BJP. Gehlot said the MLAs were in captivity and did not have their mobile phones to communicate even with their families.
However, the number of Pilot supporters is constant at 18, suggesting there is a core in the Congress that will not accept Ashok Gehlot’s leadership. A number of MLAs in this group are Jats who have had a historic grouse against Gehlot.
Parallelly, a battle in the High Court over who has the right to disqualify MLAs – the Speaker of the assembly or the court – continued. The Speaker, CP Joshi, and Gehlot have been long time rivals (see accompanying profile). But in this case, the Speaker, represented by his lawyer, Abhishek Singhvi, argued that the Speaker alone had the right to determine whether MLAs had changed sides and disqualify them.
This was challenged by Pilot’s lawyer Harish Salve, who argued that the Speaker had already decided to disqualify the MLAs, so the central issue was not the rights of the Speaker, but justice for the MLAs: the Speaker’s writ ran only inside the Legislative Assembly, not over the conduct of MLAs outside the House. And the decision to disqualify the MLAs could only be taken when the assembly was in session.
If the MLAs are disqualified, the overall strength of the assembly comes down and this is to Gehlot’s advantage. Pilot’s strategy, on the other hand, is to work to undermine Gehlot from within the Congress and ensure the Congress government is defeated on the floor of the house – with the assistance of the BJP.
There was no overt move from either Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi to defuse the crisis. Union Minister Gajendra Shekhawat, who was purportedly the middleman putting Pilot in touch with the BJP, was sent a notice by the SOG, but claimed he was not involved.