Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai)

How Gehlot retained support, made inroads into Pilot camp

BACK-CHANNEL TALKS With Gehlot trying to keep his MLAS together, a former three-time legislator helped woo back four rebel Congress MLAS, boosting numbers for a critical show of strength

- Aurangzeb Naqshbandi and Rakesh Goswami letters@hindustant­imes.com HT


NEW DELHI/JAIPUR: Pradyumn Singh, a former three-term legislator, an old-time associate of Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot may have been the key in the latter’s success in wooing back four rebel Congress MLAS from the Sachin Pilot camp.

Singh’s son Rohit Bohra was one of them. He arrived in Delhi on Friday with three other Congress legislator­s Danish Abrar, Prashant Bairwa, and Chetan Dudi. All were considered Pilot loyalists.

On Saturday evening Gehlot managed to get through to Bohra on phone. And then, through Bohra, he was able to speak to the other three.

A Rajasthan Congress functionar­y said on condition of anonymity that Gehlot was able to convince the four that they would have no future with Pilot, who was then rumoured to be joining the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Gehlot promised to address all their grievances and dangled the carrot of important responsibi­lities.

Soon after the call, the functionar­y said, the four left Delhi and reached Jaipur at 4 am on Sunday, where they had separate meetings with Gehlot. “One of the MLAS [members of legislativ­e assembly] sought forgivenes­s,” said a second Congress functionar­y, who was present at Gehlot’s residence when the four returned.

“With their return, Gehlot was able to break Pilot’s camp and convince party leaders in Delhi that more rebel legislator­s would return to the fold,” the first functionar­y said.

The four held a press conference on Sunday and said they were with Gehlot. “We are Congress soldiers for generation­s and are with the party,” said Abrar. The others echoed the sentiment.

Their return also seemed to enthuse others in the Gehlot camp.

According to the first functionar­y, Gehlot called almost all the legislator­s himself and assured them that he would take care of them. Once he was convinced he had the numbers, he called a meeting of the Congress Legislativ­e Party (CLP) on Monday. Legislator­s belonging to the Congress’ allies in the state were also invited to the meeting.

“The CLP is a forum where party MLAS can raise their issues in front of Central observers, who then submit a report to the party high command,” said a third party functionar­y who asked not to be named.

“The central observers have given specific instances of how Pilot and his supporters were trying to undermine the chief minister’s authority and were hobnobbing with the opposition,” a fourth functionar­y said on condition of anonymity.

The CLP passed a resolution on Monday, seeking “strict action” against any member of the legislativ­e party indulging in anti-party activities even as central leaders appealed to Pilot and rebel legislator­s to return. Hours before the CLP met again on Tuesday morning, party leaders again reached out to Pilot to resolve the crisis. According to a fifth Congress functionar­y who did not wish to be identified, Pilot was told that if he does not want to attend the CLP meeting, he should address the media in Delhi and clarify that he is a “loyal soldier” of the party.

“But Pilot turned this offer as well and insisted on his demand for immediate removal of Gehlot as the chief minister,” this person added. HT learns that Jitin Prasada and Dinesh Gundu Rao, Pilot’s friends, were asked to contact him. But they, too, failed to persuade him, said another leader involved in the crisis management.

“His refusal was like the final nail in the coffin. It was finally decided to remove him as the deputy chief minister and the state Congress president,” this person added on condition of anonymity.

 ??  ?? POSTER REMOVED: A collage of Sachin Pilot is pulled down at Rajasthan Congress office.
POSTER REMOVED: A collage of Sachin Pilot is pulled down at Rajasthan Congress office.

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