As Sachin Pilot vs his long-time adversary Ashok Gehlot picked up pace in court today, the judges were informed by top lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi, “I am not a robot or a post office.”
Mr Singhvi, who is also a Congress leader, was speaking on behalf of the Speaker of the Rajasthan legislature who has warned that Mr Pilot and 18 others in his squad of rebels should be disqualified as MLAs for anti-party activities. That action was not initiated lightly, Mr Singhvi argued, stressing that the complaint against Mr Pilot by his party is “not outlandish.”
The Speaker has committed that in fact, he will not proceed with any action against Team Pilot till tomorrow evening.
Representing Mr Pilot, who is 42, are a pair of the country’s most eminent lawyers, Mukul Rohatgi and Harish Salve. The former was Attorney General till 2017; the latter advises the Modi government on some of its biggest cases including those involving the country at international courts.
Mr Pilot’s enrolling of them in his defense gives away his tacit agreement with the Prime Minister’s party to bring down the Congress government headed by Ashok Gehlot, the Congress has alleged. Exhibit B, the party claims, is Mr Pilot’s choice of location -till recently, resorts in BJP-governed Haryana – for his posse of legislators, who decamped from Jaipur over a week ago and have refused to return till Mr Pilot replaces Mr Gehlot as Chief Minister.
They skipped two meetings called by Mr Gehlot of all Congress MLAs last week which means they have acted against their own party and should therefore be removed as elected members of the assembly, the Congress contends. But Mr Pilot has retorted, via his lawyers, that his group’s action amounts to freedom of expression in dissenting against his party and that the assembly is not in session – so, in fact, they cannot be assessed as defectors and punished accordingly.
Through all this, the Congress and Mr Pilot have not broken back-channel contact, with the party’s top leader, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, making repeated calls to Mr Pilot to persuade him to end his revolt. However, her aides say, she has made it clear that Mr Pilot cannot be promised the promotion he insists on.
Mr Gehlot needs 101 legislators to vote in his favour to remain Chief Minister. As of this morning, he had 102.
His rapport with Mr Pilot, who was named his Deputy when the Congress won Rajasthan in 2018, has always been short on goodwill. Mr Pilot says he learnt to live with humiliation and constant marginalization but about 10 days ago, decided he could no longer stomach his boss’ bullying when he was named a person of interest in an investigation about the BJP allegedly buying Congress MLAs to remove Mr Gehlot.
On the other hand, Mr Gehlot has claimed “direct evidence” of Mr Pilot’s collusion with the BJP.
Three taped conversations that were leaked on social media last week include union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and two of Mr Pilot’s supporters discussing cash-for-support, the Congress says. The politicians have all denied the charge.
If Team Pilot is disqualified from the assembly, a trust vote for Mr Gehlot will become far easier – with the total number of MLAs reducing, the majority mark will also plunge to a number far more within his reach. Further, the dismissed MLAs will have to run for election again.