A handshake, a pat on the arm and smiles all around. This was how Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot welcomed his former deputy Sachin Pilot at his residence in Jaipur as the two leaders came face-to-face for the first time after a month-long stand-off.
Pilot and the other MLAs, who had stayed away from Jaipur for a month, putting the Gehlot government in peril, arrived at the chief minister’s residence to attend a meeting of the Congress Legislature Party following the truce brokered by the party high command.
The meeting, held on the eve of the Assembly session, formed the scene for the first meeting between Gehlot and Pilot after the latter called off his rebellion. It was also the first time that the 18 MLAs who had sided with Pilot came face-to-face with the around hundred MLAs who had stuck with Gehlot.
The month-long political imbroglio saw a bitter war of words between the two sides, claims and counter-claims regarding the numerical strength of the Gehlot dispensation, spilling over of the political fight into the legal arena and a hectic back-and-forth between the government and Governor Kalraj Mishra with regard to convening a session of the Assembly.
Prior to the CLP meeting, Gehlot and Pilot had a separate meeting intended to break the ice in the presence of central leaders who included AICC general secretary in-charge of organisation K.C. Venugopal, AICC general secretary in-charge of party affairs in Rajasthan Avinash Pande, AICC Communications Department head Randeep Surjewala and senior party leader Ajay Maken. And then, as the meeting began, Gehlot and Pilot, standing alongside, showed the victory sign.
Ahead of the Assembly session, the Congress has revoked the suspension of MLAs Bhanwar Lal Sharma and Vishvendra Singh, who belong to the Pilot camp and who were earlier suspended from the party over their alleged involvement in a conspiracy to topple the Gehlot government.
The CLP meeting was held amidst indications of a trust deficit between the two sides as Gehlot’s supporters are learnt to be unhappy about the welcoming back of the rebel legislators. On the other hand, the MLAs in the Pilot camp continue to have apprehensions with regard to Gehlot’s style of functioning.
Meanwhile, the opposition BJP in a surprise move announced after a meeting of its MLAs that it will move a no-confidence motion in the Assembly on Friday. The party had so far maintained that it was not demanding that Gehlot government prove its numbers and insisted that it had nothing to do with the rebellion in the Congress.
While there were earlier indications of the Gehlot government not going in for a trust vote following the truce called between the chief minister and the former deputy chief minister, Gehlot on Thursday confirmed at the CLP meeting that he will seek a vote of confidence in the Assembly session.
“We could have proved our majority without these 19 MLAs (Pilot and the 18 MLAs loyal to him). But it would not have given us happiness. We will bring a vote of confidence,” he said.
He spoke about the need for all the MLAs to be together and forget the past. The decision to seek a vote of confidence has to do with the rather fragile nature of the peace between Gehlot and the dissidents and the chief minister’s continuing lack of trust in his detractors. It shows that the chief minister, fresh out of a stand-off with Pilot, is keen to assert that he has the support of the majority.