Congress MLAs arrive to meet CP Joshi | Photo: PTI
Jaipur: The Congress in Rajasthan plunged into a crisis Sunday as several MLAs loyal to Ashok Gehlot submitted resignation letters over a possible move to appoint Sachin Pilot as the next CM, their rebellion erupting just ahead of a Congress Legislature Party meeting.
The loyalists headed to Speaker C P Joshi's home after a long meeting in the evening at minister Shanti Dhariwal's residence, saying they were resigning as MLAs.
All this while, at the chief minister's home, Gehlot and Congress observers Mallikarjun Kharge and Ajay Maken waited for all legislators to arrive for the CLP meeting.
Pilot and his supporters came but the meeting was a washout.
Gehlot loyalists claimed that over 90 MLAs went to Joshi's home, but the number could not be verified independently. The Congress has 108 MLAs in the House of 200.
There was no word from the Speaker's office on the resignation letters.
Late at night, there were efforts by Kharge and Maken to persuade Gehlot loyalists to meet them one on one, if not as part of the planned MLAs' meeting.
Ministers Shanti Dhariwal, Pratap Singh Khachariyawas and Mahesh Joshi, along with CM Gehlot's advisor Sanyam Lodha met the AICC observers, but the standoff continued.
On their return, sources said, they told the other loyalists that they had put forth three conditions.
They wanted the decision on the next CM to be left till after the Congress organisational election and stressed that Gehlot should have a say in picking the new CM who should be someone who stood by the veteran leader during the rebellion by Pilot supporters in 2020.
Around midnight, the loyalists began dispersing from Joshi's home.
“We have submitted our resignation and are now going home. The MLAs want that any decision on the CM's should be taken only after the election of the party's national president,” minister Govind Ram Meghwal said.
The loyalists said the views of MLAs should be taken into account.
“Later, whatever decision taken by the high command will be accepted,”independent MLA Babulal Nagar said.
The aborted CLP meeting was seen as crucial step ahead of Gehlot filing his nomination for the Congress president's post, amid speculation that the former deputy chief minister Pilot will take his place in the state.
Gehlot, seen by many as a reluctant candidate for the top party position, initially appeared unwilling to give up his CM's post. Later, it was speculated that he would rather see C P Joshi --- or anyone else --- as CM rather than Pilot, who had rebelled against his leadership.
Earlier in the day, Gehlot told reporters in Jaisalmer that the MLAs would pass a one-line resolution at the CLP meeting calling upon party president Sonia Gandhi to pick his successor.
But the MLAs seemed to go off script.
Late at night, a large group of MLAs were at the Speaker's home. At the CM's residence, a smaller group was believed to be in a huddle that reportedly included Gehlot, Pilot and some of his loyalists, Kharge and Maken.
Before setting off for Joshi's home, some Gehlot loyalists said the next CM should be someone who was instrumental in saving the government during the 2020 crisis and not anyone involved in the bid to topple it, a veiled reference to Pilot.
"We are going to the Speaker's residence and will submit our resignation," state minister Pratap Singh Khachariyawas told reporters.
Another leader, Govind Ram Meghwal, said Gehlot can shoulder both roles, that of the chief minister as well as the party's national president.
He said if Gehlot does not remain CM, the party will face problems in winning the next Assembly elections.
"If a decision is not taken keeping the MLAs' sentiments in mind, the government will be in danger," independent legislator and advisor to the chief minister Sanyam Lodha said.
Gehlot and Pilot were at loggerheads over the chief minister's post soon after the Congress won the Assembly elections in December 2018.
The high command then chose Gehlot as the chief minister for the third time while Pilot was made his deputy.
In July 2020, Pilot along with 18 party MLAs rebelled against Gehlot's leadership.