The second meeting of Congress Legislature Party in two days began on Tuesday morning with Rajasthan’s Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot turning down appeals to participate. Ahead of the meeting, Congress general secretary Avinash Pande made another bid to reach out to the rebel leader, who had skipped the first CLP meeting at Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s home on Monday.
Eighteen other Congress MLAs had also not attended Monday’s meeting, according to sources. But independents and MLAs from other parties participated, expressing support for Gehlot. Tuesday’s meeting was said to be a second chance for Pilot, who is also the president of the state unit of the party.
But MLAs considered close to Pilot were again not seen there, and are calling for a floor test in the 200-member state assembly. Srimadhopar MLA Deepender Singh Shekhawat, who was Speaker in the assembly during the term of the previous Congress government, came out in the open Tuesday with the demand.
The Pilot camp also released late at night a 10-second video clip of a group of Congress MLAs sitting together. There appeared to be 16 of them in the clip. Tourism Minister Vishvendra Singh tweeted the video, captioning it as “Family”.
The latest Congress meeting is being held at a resort where Gehlot and other MLAs are camping since Monday. It was scheduled to begin at 10 am, but started at least an hour later. “I appeal to Sachin Pilot and all his fellow MLAs to join today’s Legislature Party meeting,” Avinash Pande, who is the Rajasthan in-charge at the AICC, tweeted in the morning.
“While expressing your faith in the ideology and values of the Congress, please make your presence felt and strengthen the hands of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi,” he said. He told reporters that a second chance is being given to Pilot and hoped that all MLAs come and extend solidarity with the leadership for which people voted to ensure the state’s development.
Congress leader Randeep Surjewala on Monday night announced summoning of the second CLP meeting, amid attempts by the party’s top leadership to woo back dissidents led by Pilot. Former party president Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra are among the senior leaders who had been in touch with Pilot, sources said.
Party leaders had said 106 of 122 MLAs – from Congress and the allies — attended the first CLP meeting, a claim contested by the Pilot camp. Pilot and his supporters claimed to have the backing of 30 Congress MLAs and some independents.
Pilot has been upset since he was denied the Rajasthan chief minister’s post after the December 2018 assembly elections. In the 200-member assembly, the Congress has 107 MLAs and the BJP 72. In the past, the ruling party has claimed the support of 13 independents, two MLAs each from the CPM and the Bhartiya Tribal Party (BTP), and one from the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD).
But CPM and BTP have now indicated that their MLAs could stay neutral till the Congress settles its factional feud. In recent days, the Gehlot camp has also distanced itself from three of the independents, after their names surfaced in an alleged plot to topple the state government.
The current crisis began Friday when the Rajasthan Police sent a notice to Pilot, asking him to record his statement over the alleged bid to bring down the government. The same notice was sent to the chief minister and some other MLAs, but Pilot’s supporters claimed that it was only meant to humiliate him.
The Special Operation Group (SOG) had sent out the notices after tapping a phone conversation between two men, who were allegedly discussing the fall of the Gehlot government. Gehlot had alleged that the opposition BJP was trying to lure Congress MLAs. The BJP had dismissed the allegation, saying that the developments only reflected a power struggle within the ruling party.