Jaipur: The Congress government of Ashok Gehlot scored an expected win on Friday in a trust vote in the Rajasthan assembly that capped weeks of turmoil over a rebel crisis that had pushed it to the verge of collapse. The vote took place a day after Ashok Gehlot’s patch-up with sacked deputy Sachin Pilot, who ended his rebellion against the Chief Minister earlier this week. Mr Gehlot, having established his majority in the assembly, has won a six-month reprieve from any vote challenging his government. “Winning the trust vote in the assembly is a message to the forces that are trying to destabilize elected governments in the country. Their every tactic failed in Rajasthan. It is the people’s unwavering trust in us and unity of our Congress MLAs that has brought this victory,” he tweeted.
The highlight of the short debate was an intervention by Sachin Pilot, whose seating in the Rajasthan assembly has been changed since he was sacked as Deputy Chief Minister. Mr Pilot has been assigned a second row seat closer to the opposition than the government benches. “Now I am next to the opposition. I have been sent to the sarhad (border). That is because only the bravest and strongest warrior is sent to the border,” he said, responding to digs from the BJP.
During his rebellion, Mr Pilot had been accused by Mr Gehlot of conspiring with the BJP to bring his government down by buying off MLAs. After the trust vote, he said: “This has put a full stop on all suspicions that were rising. A roadmap has been prepared for all the issues that were being raised. I have complete faith, that roadmap will be announced timely.”
The Gehlot camp received a big boost after Sachin Pilot, who had rebelled against the Chief Minister in early July, returned to the fold. Mr Gehlot and Mr Pilot greeted each other with a handshake, a half-hug and flashed victory signs before they sat together for a meeting of Congress MLAs to plan for today’s vote.
Mr Pilot, whose “homecoming” followed a meeting with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Monday, said in the assembly pointedly: “We consulted a doctor in Delhi and we received our cure. We are back now. We all stand united.”
Mr Gehlot had the support of 125 MLAs, far more than the majority-mark of 101 in the 200-member Rajasthan assembly. Before the rebels returned, he had 102. Yesterday, he made it a point to let the rebels know that he would have won even without their support. “But it would not have given us joy, after all, apne toh apne hi hotey hain (family is family),” he had said.
The BJP had 75 MLAs on its side, hardly enough to challenge Mr Gehlot on the floor of the house. The party, after announcing it would ask for a no-confidence motion, changed its plan.
The BJP used the debate to take pot-shots at the Congress over the Gehlot-Pilot feud. The BJP’s Ghulab Chand Kataria, Leader of Opposition, said Mr Pilot “was pushed out of the party” despite his work. “He did such good work on MNREGA and how did you reward him,” Mr Kataria said, looking at Mr Gehlot. Mr Pilot interrupted: “What is our internal matter, leave that to us. Whether there is any hurt or not, leave that to us. You focus on the trust vote.”
The BJP apparently stuck to a strategy to put Mr Gehlot on the backfoot and also bring out the rift within the Congress. The party believes the Congress truce is only temporary.
Soon after the Congress announced its truce with 19 rebels, the BJP had declared that it was “reworking its strategy”. One of the reasons why the BJP is seen to have failed to seize the moment in Rajasthan is the silence of its top leader Vasundhara Raje. An independent MLA referred to it during the debate. “If Vasundhara Raje had supported us or Mr Gehlot, not even 25 MLAs would have been with you today,” MLA Sanyam Lodha jeered at the BJP.
The six MLAs who shifted from Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to the Congress voted with Mr Gehlot, defying the BSP whip. The MLAs participated in the vote after the Supreme Court yesterday refused to intervene on a BJP MLA’s petition for a temporary freeze on the merger.