Sachin camp moves HC challenging threat of disqualification from Assembly; Cong leadership says court move widening rift with Pilot
Rebel Congress leader Sachin Pilot on Thursday virtually shut the door on the Congress and plunged into a legal battle against threat of disqualification with the help of top legal eagles considered close to the BJP.
Pilot also paid no heed to advice by the Congress leadership to shun the “hospitality” of the BJP Government in Haryana, where he is camping with 18 other Congress MLAs in two different hotels under police protection.
The Congress leadership feels that Pilot has gone too far to return after he hired senior lawyers Harish Salve and Mukul Rohtagi to contest his case in the Rajasthan High Court against the disqualification notice served on him and his associates by the Assembly Speaker. The case will come up before a division bench of the HC on Friday.
The court move marks a widening of the rift between the Congress and Sachin Pilot, who has been in Delhi along with some 18 MLAs since he launched his revolt on Sunday. Congress sources said Pilot remains indifferent to all attempts made by the Gandhis to settle his differences with the party.
“His (Pilot) intentions are clear now. His claim that he is still a Congress man and not joining the BJP was just a ploy to escape disqualification. He has just tried to buy time so that he could lure more MLAs to topple the Gehlot Government. Already he has booked more room in the Gurugram hotels for these MLAs,” said an AICC leader who has been making attempts for a patch up between Gehlot and Pilot.
Sources said Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra spoke to Sachin Pilot even on Wednesday, but drew no positive response. This would be the Congress leader’s fourth direct outreach to the rebel, who has always been a Gandhi family favourite. Former party chief Rahul Gandhi has also been in touch with him, but through emissaries.
A division bench of the Rajasthan High Court has deferred the petition filed by Pilot and 18 other dissident leaders challenging notices from the Speaker over a Congress move to disqualify them from the State Assembly and will take it up at 5 pm on Friday. The two-judge Bench ruled that no action be taken against Pilot and the MLAs till 5 pm Friday.
Rajasthan Assembly Speaker CP Joshi had issued notices after the party sought their disqualification from the State Assembly. Sacked Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot and the other MLAs were asked to respond to the notices by Friday. The notices were issued on Tuesday. Congress sources said Pilot and 18 other MLAs had defied a whip and did not attend its legislature party meetings.
Salve was then NDA Government’s top law officer from 1999 to 2002 and is currently based out of London, from where he fought India’s case against Pakistan in the Kulbhushan Jadhav matter.
Rajasthan BJP unit is in “wait and watch” mode. Party leaders maintained that the BJP, as the main Opposition in Rajasthan, will take “every action to see that the Gehlot Government fails to prove (its) majority” in the Assembly.
While Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra made several contacts with Pilot, former party chief Rahul Gandhi’s brief to his emissary KC Venugopal was to try to hold Pilot back. Party chief Sonia Gandhi also called Gehlot asking him not to speak anything against Pilot in public.
Sources said Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, who is part of the Central team sent by the Congress to Jaipur to handle the crisis, had a meeting with Gehlot on Thursday only to convey the Chief Minister that Rahul Gandhi wants to keep the doors open for Pilot. Sources said Gehlot told Surjewala he was not against that but Pilot would have to “leave the BJP camp”.
Sources in Delhi also said both Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra are keen to accommodate Pilot, and that Ahmed Patel was talking to him.
Meanwhile, a BJP ally in Rajasthan has alleged that former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, the BJP’s most prominent leader in the State, is trying to help Ashok Gehlot. A tweet by Hanuman Beniwal, an MP of the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party, added the twist to the Congress versus Congress fight in Rajasthan by suggesting that Vasundhara Raje is trying to sabotage the rebel camp.
“Former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje has called up Congress MLAs close to her and asked them to support Ashok Gehlot. She has called each and every Jat MLA in Sikar and Nagaur and asked them to keep distance from Sachin Pilot, I have proof of this,” tweeted Hanuman Beniwal, who represents Nagaur in Lok Sabha.
Gehlot has alleged that Pilot’s supporters were paid Rs 20 crore by the BJP. To this, Pilot’s loyalist and former BSP legislator Murari Lal Meena has responded by saying that the CM should also come clean about the money they were paid to come over to the Congress.
Congress leader Kapil Sibal, who had earlier expressed concern about “horses bolting from the Congress’ stables”, on Thursday sounded critical of Pilot. “False rumours spread to malign Pilot: I am not joining the BJP. I guess then legislators at a hotel in Manesar is merely a vacation in Haryana’s comfort zone under BJP’s watchful eye. What about “ghar wapsi”?”, Sibal tweeted.
Responding to these, Pilot camp said “he (Pilot) never detached himself”. “Is it wrong to have grievances against the Chief Minister and point out what he was doing wrong? The legislators are in the Manesar hotel at their own cost because they will be arrested in Jaipur. Pilot has not held anyone hostage, they are paying their own hotel bills and some are staying at homes in Faridabad,” stated a close aide of Pilot.
Friday, 17 July 2020 | PNS | New Delhi/Jaipur
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