'Useless', 'Idle': Ashok Gehlot sharpens attack against Sachin Pilot

Jaipur, Rajasthan, IndiaUpdated: Jul 21, 2020, 04:53 AM IST
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File photo. Photograph:(PTI)

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Notices also went out to dissident Congress MLAs Bhanwarlal Sharma and Vishvendra Singh from the state's Anti-Corruption Bureau over the audio clips.

The Ashok Gehlot camp on Monday sharpened its attack on Sachin Pilot, with the chief minister calling him "useless" and another loyalist alleging that the dissident Congress leader himself offered him crores to switch sides.

Pilot reacted sharply, saying he will take the MLA to court.

Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat confirmed he has received a notice from Rajasthan police, after the Congress claimed he figures in audio clips suggesting a "conspiracy" to topple the Congress government in Rajasthan.

The BJP had earlier demanded a CBI inquiry into "illegal" phone-tapping by the state government. But, in what could be a move to pre-empt it, the state government has withdrawn its "general consent" to the agency to investigate criminal cases.

The central agency will now have to seek prior consent on a case-by-case basis.

Notices also went out to dissident Congress MLAs Bhanwarlal Sharma and Vishvendra Singh from the state's Anti-Corruption Bureau over the audio clips.

The ACB asked the two MLAs, who have not been seen in public since the crisis began, to appear before it in three days.

As the infighting in the Congress intensified, a court battle continued through the day.

The Rajasthan High Court will on Tuesday morning resume hearing the petition by Sachin Pilot and 18 other rebels, challenging the disqualification notices sent to them by the assembly Speaker.

The Congress has also summoned a legislative party meeting, its third in about a week, on Tuesday, as speculation over a planned floor test in the assembly continues.

The harshest words spoken during the day came from Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot who used the derogatory term "nikkama", Hindi for "useless" or "incompetent", for the sacked deputy chief minister, with whom he is now locked in a tussle for power.

Referring to Pilot's performance as the state Congress chief, Gehlot said, "We knew he is `nikamma' (useless), he is 'nakara' (idle) and not doing any work".

Gehlot did not mention Pilot by name, referring once to him as his "young colleague" and recalling that the he had been given important posts by the party at an early age.

Pilot ignored these remarks but reacted strongly to allegations made by Congress MLA Giriraj Singh Malinga, who claimed that he was offered money by Pilot to join the Bharatiya Janata Party.

He said talks were held at Pilot's residence and he later told Gehlot about the "conspiracy".

He did not disclose the amount that was discussed, but when reporters asked if it was Rs 30- 35 crore, Malinga said he was offered the "going rate".

Malinga is part of a group of six Bahujan Samaj Party MLAs, which was inducted last September into the Congress which then had a slim majority in the assembly.

Pilot rejected Malinga's allegation as basesless, saying it was levelled to malign him and stifle the "legitimate concerns" he had raised against the party's leadership in Rajasthan.

"I will be taking appropriate and strictest possible legal action against the MLA who was made to make these accusations," his said in a statement.

An MLA in his camp rejected allegations that the dissidents planned to join the BJP, asserting that their fight was to save the Congress. Mukesh Bhakar, who was dropped as Rajasthan's Youth Congress chief last week, said they sought a change in the state leadership.

At the Rajasthan High Court, the hearing into the validity of the assembly Speaker's notices to the 19 dissident MLAs, is set to enter its third day.

Chief Justice Indrajit Mahanty and Justice Prakash Gupta are expected to give their order on Tuesday, when the hearing resumes.

Abhishek Manu Singhvi, counsel for the Speaker, argued Monday that the petition was premature as a decision was yet to be taken on disqualifying the MLAs from the House.

The notices to the 19 MLAs were served after the party complained to the Speaker that they had defied a whip to attend two Congress Legislature Party meetings last week.

The Pilot camp, however, argues that a party whip applies only when the Assembly is in session.

Speaker CP Joshi has given the rebel MLAs up to 5.30 pm Tuesday to reply to disqualification notices, which the dissident camp wants the court to quash.

In the 200-member state assembly, the Congress has 107 MLAs, including former deputy chief minister Pilot and 18 MLAs loyal to him.

The CPM, which has two MLAs, said Tuesday it will take a call when a floor test in the assembly is announced, but is likely to vote with Gehlot.

Pilot has been upset since the Congress picked Gehlot over him for the chief minister's post, following the December 2018 assembly elections.