Ashok Gehlot is done with being silent. In an exclusive interview with NDTV, the Chief Minister of Rajasthan took time out from his campaign along with Rahul Gandhi in Gujarat to deliver his biggest takedown to date of Sachin Pilot, whom he called “traitor” six times in the interview.
“A gaddar (traitor) cannot be Chief Minister,” he said, “the high command cannot make Sachin Pilot Chief Minister… a man who does not have 10 MLAs. Who rebelled. He has betrayed the party, (he) is a traitor.”
He was perfectly inclined to elaborate. “It must be a first for India that a party chairman tried to overthrow his own government,” he said of Mr Pilot’s infamous 2020 uprising, an uprising that, Mr Gehlot said, without providing any evidence, “was funded by the BJP” and powered by senior BJP leaders including Amit Shah.
NDTV has contacted Mr Pilot for comment and this report will be updated with his response.
At the time, Mr Pilot, who had by then served as deputy chief minister for about two years, left for a five-star resort near Delhi with a posse of 19 MLAs. It was a straight-up challenge to Congress: either he was promoted to Prime Minister, or he would leave Congress, splitting the party into one of the few states it controlled (the numbers have dropped significantly since then).
But the daredevil, for all his travels to the national capital, had no legs. Mr Pilot, 45, was easily beaten by Mr Gehlot, 26 years his senior, who assembled his own show of strength, also at a five-star resort, with a workforce of more than 100 MLAs. There was no competition, it turned out.
Mr. Pilot, having failed, had to accept the consequences. A reconciliation with Congress was effected; as punishment, he was removed as president of Congress in his home state, a role that allows significant influence over the cadre; he was also dismissed as deputy chief minister.
Midway through the uprising, Mr Gehlot claimed in his interview with NDTV, Mr Pilot met with two senior union ministers in Delhi. “Amit Shah and Dharmendra Pradhan were involved. They (including Mr Pilot) had a meeting in Delhi,” he said, adding, again without backup, that of the MLAs who sided with his rival, “ some got 5 crores, some got 10. The money was even collected from the BJP office in Delhi.” Mr Gehlot also said that Camp Pilot was visited by Mr Pradhan at a time when Congress envoys were denied entry.
The BJP described Mr Gehlot’s allegation as baseless.
“The Congress leadership has failed to put things in order. The Congress is losing Rajasthan, that’s why Gehlot is frustrated. Gehlot blames the BJP for its failure,” said BJP’s Rajasthan chief Satish Poonia.
After Mr. Pilot returned to Congress, slimmed down but still a candidate for the top job in Rajasthan, there was an uneasy calm. Until August, when Sonia Gandhi, who had to find a successor as party chairman, leaned on Mr Gehlot to take the job. He made it clear that this was not an offer that interested him – nevertheless, after days of trying to lure it off, he might carry it out if he were allowed to remain Chief Minister. So two posts for him. The reprimand was swift. Rahul Gandhi publicly said that “one man one post” was the party ruling.
A meeting of MLAs in Rajasthan was scheduled for the last week of September to decide who would be appointed chief minister if Mr Gehlot was transferred as party boss. But instead of appearing at the official meeting in Jaipur, more than 90 MLAs affiliated with Mr Gehlot held a parallel session in which they decided that Mr Pilot was not an acceptable choice and whoever became Congress President (i.e. Mr Gehlot) should be the should have a final vote. .
Mr. Gehlot was censured by Congress – and by Team Pilot – for now organizing his own rebellion. “The MLAs were not loyal to the Prime Minister (me),” Mr Gehlot stated, “they were loyal to the high command.” He stressed that he was not present at the controversial meeting and said that it is Mr Pilot who is to blame as he put forth the theory that he would get the job. “There was a rumor that Sachin Pilot would become Chief Minister. He propagated this himself. People thought he would become Chief Minister… This upset the MLAs because how can he become Chief Minister after trying to create his own government overthrow?” He is of the same opinion. “I agree – how can a gaddar become Prime Minister?
Mr. Gehlot emphasized during his conversation that his allegiance to the Gandhis is a career. “Everything I have is because of them,” he said. The key players who organized the rally in support of him in September would be punished, the party said, but that remains an unfulfilled threat, as Mr Pilot lamented a few days ago (his outbursts against Mr Gehlot have become a recent pattern ).
When asked to reflect on the source of his problems with Mr Pilot, the Prime Minister said he was at his wits’ end. In fact, he claimed, in 2009, when the UPA was elected for a second term, it was he who recommended making the junior politician a union minister.
The fundamental issue, as far as Mr Pilot is concerned, is that the Congress, upon winning Rajasthan in 2018, had vowed that the position of chief minister would be rotated between him and Mr Gehlot, with the latter getting the first rations. Mr Pilot says he has been consistently sidelined by Mr Gehlot, who says he once tapped his supporters’ phones to politically stifle them.
Mr Gehlot says he has never understood Mr Pilot’s oft-voted accusation of “sidelining him”. He also says it is a misconception that Mr Pilot has been promised an equal term as Prime Minister. “The question does not arise. But if he (pilot) still says it, then ask Rahul Gandhi (whether this condition has ever been established).”
His unequivocal stance that Mr Pilot “cannot be prime minister” does not mean that if he does, he could spark another insurrection, Mr Gehlot said, although it seemed more an offer than an assurance that he would follow this line of questions would break down. as “hypothetical” (most questions about the future of his role via-a-namely Mr. Pilot were labeled hypothetical by him).
On whether Congress will elect him to lead the campaign in Rajasthan – the election is barely a year away – Mr Gehlot said: “For the first time, there is no anti-incumbency in Rajasthan.” So the choice of the party is obvious. The rest is political.