HOURS AFTER he dismissed claims that the BJP has reached out to him, Sachin Pilot reached Delhi where the Congress high command is working to “amicably” settle differences in its Rajasthan unit amid growing unease in the former Deputy CM’s camp over the delay in Cabinet expansion and other appointments.
Sources said an “unhappy” Pilot reached Delhi Friday night and is likely to meet the party’s central leaders over the weekend. A senior leader is in touch with Pilot, and AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is again playing a role in ensuring that the situation does not escalate, sources said.
Earlier, responding to a question in Jaipur from reporters on a claim by UP BJP leader Rita Bahuguna Joshi that he may join her party soon, Pilot said: “Maine bhi suna hai. Rita Bahuguna Joshi ne jo kaha ki Sachin se baat kari hai, ho sakta hai unhone Sachin Tendulkar se baat kari ho. Mere se baat karne ki himmat nahin hai (I have also heard this. Rita Bahuguna Joshi has said that she has spoken with Sachin, it is possible that she has spoken with Sachin Tendulkar. (She) doesn’t have the courage to speak with me).”
Speaking to The Indian Express, AICC general secretary in charge of Rajasthan Ajay Maken said: “We will settle all the issues amicably. The hopes and aspirations of all the people will be addressed and taken care of.”
Sources in the party, however, said it is easier said than done. At the heart of the tussle is filling of vacant slots in CM Ashok Gehlot’s Cabinet. A senior high command leader said there are “pressures and counter pressures” and the expansion is turning out to be a tightrope walk. Another central leader claimed that the Pilot camp is demanding seven of the nine berths, which is “not just difficult but impossible”.
“There are nine vacancies, and Sachin wants seven berths for MLAs loyal to him. How can we tell the Chief Minister, who has an overwhelming majority in the legislature party, to be content with only two? Then there are 12 independents and MLAs who have come from the BSP. The state government’s stability will be at stake if we ignore them,” the leader said.
Congress’s central leaders said the “priority” is to ensure that the state government lasts its full term, signalling that the Pilot camp may not get what it wants. “We want to accommodate Sachin and we have accommodated his people. One-fourth of the reconstituted PCC executive has leaders close to him. Three out of the eight general secretaries are his men,” a leader said.
Pilot’s visit to Delhi comes two days after UP Congres leader Jiten Prasada joined the BJP ahead of the crucial Assembly elections in UP next year, marking yet another setback to the Congress, which has seen a steady erosion of leaders since 2014.
Earlier Friday, Pilot participated in a Congress protest in Jaipur against the Centre over rising fuel prices. He also went to Dausa to pay tributes to his father and former Union minister Rajesh Pilot on the latter’s death anniversary.
Ever since the defection of senior Congress leaders, such as Jyotiraditya Scindia, to the BJP, speculation has been rife about the future of Pilot — especially since he had a public spat with Gehlot last year and camped in Haryana and Delhi for over a month with the 18 MLAs. He was later removed as deputy chief minister and state party chief.