Rebel Congress MLA from Rajasthan, Bhanwar Lal Sharma and Vishvendra Singh Bharatpur have been suspended based on a set of tapes that reportedly have people close to former state deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot negotiating with the BJP. Pilot for his part has not reacted to the tapes in any way, even after the story has gone viral.
Sharma for his part has accused a functionary in the Ashok Gehlot-led government in Rajasthan of forging the tapes that address horse-trading between him and BJP leaders.
A Huffington Post report added that on July 10, the SOG filed an FIR under Sections 124A (sedition) and Section 120B(criminal conspiracy) that led to the arrests of two men, allegedly associated with the BJP. Two politicians – an independent MLA from Kushalgarh, Ramila Khadiya, and Congress’ Mahendra Malviya, were also named. Pilot is named as a witness in the FIR, not an accused, the report added, prompting senior Congress leader Randeep Singh Sujrewala today to lash out at the BJP saying that the party had been conspiring to topple the Congress.
"It should also be probed whether money has been exchanged by any other person or MLA to bring down the government or change allegiance, apart from the persons named in the audio," Surjewala said.
While Surjewala, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi are keen on welcoming Pilot back to the Congress, Gehlot isn’t convinced, as he said that he has evidence to show that Pilot was conspiring with the BJP. "We have proof of horse-trading: Rs 20 crore was offered. Those who took the money are holed up at the hotel in Manesar. Our deputy chief minister and PCC chief (Pilot) himself was negotiating the deal and, at the same time, giving statements that no horse-trading was on. What clarifications are you giving when you yourself were involved in it," Gehlot charged.
Notably, on the same day after rebel Congress leader Sachin Pilot was vocal about the fact that he would not join the BJP, despite rumours doing the rounds, Mahesh Langa, a journalist from The Hindu claimed that a Special Operations Group (SOG) had tapes with records of Pilot negotiating with the BJP.
While nobody paid attention to this tweet on July 14, the tapes have suddenly become a hot topic. Pilot, of course, has rejected the allegations that there was any discussion with members of the BJP. These recordings were triggered by suspicion around the time of the Rajya Sabha elections that some Rajasthan MLAs were open to toppling the state government in exchange for money, the Huffington Post report said.
Gehlot sensing danger at the time had even shifted all his MLAs and other party functionaries to a resort on the Jaipur-Delhi Highway. And like Free Press Journal’s Sangeeta Pranvendra pointed out, Gehlot was ready for a rebellion within the Congress after Pilot repeatedly kept criticising the government, despite being the deputy Chief Minister.
While addressing the media on July 15, Gehlot said, “We love the young generation of leaders, but if they indulge in horse-trading, then won’t they ruin the country? Can’t the media see this for themselves?”
Pilot, who is camping in Delhi since Saturday, however, did not seek any appointment either with Congress President Sonia Gandhi or Rahul, even though AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and organising general secretary K C Venugopal are in touch with him.
Insiders say his group's strength has swelled to 22, with three more MLAs checking in a private Gurgaon hotel where the other rebels are camping.In fact, on Thursday morning, he moved the Jaipur Bench of the Rajasthan High Court to stall the Chief Minister's attempt to get all 19 MLAs, including Pilot, disqualified as members of the Assembly on the ground of "anti-party activity" and for their reluctance to attend the CLP meeting.
The hearing on the petition is listed on Friday, which is also the deadline set by the Rajasthan Assembly Speaker for the response of the rebel MLAs to the notice served on them under the Anti-Defection Law.Senior advocate Harish Salve, who was engaged by the Pilot faction to secure a stay on the Assembly Speaker’s notice asking rebels to respond by Friday, vetted the petition filed by MLA Prithviraj Meena and others.
Pilot’s most notable supporter is sacked Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha, who has been suspended from for ‘anti-party’ activities. While Jha has been quite vocal about the happenings in the Congress, other Congress leaders such as Kapil Sibal, Shashi Tharoor, and Karti Chidambaram have been subtle in what they feel about the Congress’ future. With the Rajasthan drama unfurling the way it is, it will be interesting to see how the next 48 hours play out.