Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot on Saturday urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to get the alleged attempt to topple his government stopped and said he is open to welcoming back the Congress rebels led by Sachin Pilot.
Asked if the dissidents will be forgiven, he said, "It depends on the party high command. If the party high command forgives, I shall embrace them." Since the power tussle between him and Sachin Pilot resurfaced last month, the Congress veteran has used harsh words against his former deputy, once even referring to him as 'nikamma' or useless. But Gehlot said he will do whatever the Congress leadership wants.
He said the party trusted him and he has been a Union minister, AICC general secretary, state unit president and chief minister for a third time.
"What else do I want? I am doing this to serve the public," he told reporters in Jaisalmer.
The chief minister was on his way back to Jaipur after an overnight stay at Jaisalmer's Suryagarh resort, where loyalist MLAs have been shifted ahead of the assembly session from August 14.
The Congress has accused the BJP of playing a major role in the rebellion by the now sacked deputy chief minister and 18 other Congress MLAs who are threatening his government.
"We have no personal quarrel with anyone. In a democracy, fights happen over ideology, policies and programmes and not for toppling a government.
"Modi should get the drama which is going on in Rajasthan ended," the chief minister said outside the hotel where the MLAs were shifted Friday.
Gehlot said Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat should resign on moral grounds, claiming that his involvement in a "conspiracy" to topple the Rajasthan government is now known.
He said Shekhawat's name also cropped up in a cooperative society scam in which money from poor people was looted.
The chief minister also alleged that some other Union ministers, including Dharmendra Pradhan, are involved in the "conspiracy" against his government.
Gehlot and other Rajasthan ministers are likely to spend most of their time in the state capital as the Congress tries to keep its numbers intact in Jaisalmer.
Including the 19 rebels, the Congress has 107 MLAs in the 200-member assembly. The BJP has 72 MLAs.
He claimed that democracy is under threat in the country and the Union Home Ministry is after his government in the state.
He repeated the charge that the 'rate' for trying to lure MLAs away has gone up after the announcement of the assembly session.
Back in Jaipur, he said Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati is giving statements "under pressure" and asserted that all six BSP MLAs lawfully merged with the Congress in Rajasthan last year.
The BSP recently challenged the merger in the high court, prompting the Congress to charge that the party made the move at the behest of the BJP.
Reacting to BJP state president Satish Poonia's statement over the shifting of Congress MLAs to Jaisalmer, Gehlot called him a "new leader" who wants to take on former chief minister Vasundhara Raje.
He commented that Raje has 'disappeared' from the scene.
Poonia had mocked the Congress, asking if the Gehlot loyalists will move further westward across the border into Pakistan.
MLAs from the Congress and its allies had remained confined to Fairmont hotel in Jaipur since July 13, before being flown Friday to Jaisalmer on chartered flights.
They are likely to visit Tanot Mata temple near the Pakistan border and some other places during their Jaisalmer stay, expected to continue till the assembly session begins.
Gehlot recalled that he had informed Narendra Modi about the political situation in the state through a letter and a telephone conversation.
He said he will write another letter to Modi asking him to call a video conference of all chief ministers again to review the COVID-19 situation.
He said adequate testing for coronavirus is not taking place in some states while Rajasthan has increased its testing capacity to 40,000 per day.
"We have done excellent COVID management in the state. The recovery rate is good, the death rate is less than 1 per cent," he said.
Meeting reporters in Jaipur, the chief minister said the states are suffering as revenues have come down after the coronavirus lockdown. Gehlot said he has asked the Centre to declare Rajasthan's eastern canal project, which was prepared by the earlier government led by Vasundhara Raje, as a national project.
The project is aimed at providing water for drinking and irrigation to 13 districts.