Saying that he has worked very hard to bring Congress back in power in Rajasthan, party's rebel leader Sachin Pilot told media on Wednesday that he is not going to BJP.
"I am not joining BJP. Some leaders in Rajasthan trying to fuel speculation that I am joining BJP but I am not doing so," he said.
Congress, meanwhile sent notice to Pilot and 18 other party members, for not attending CLP meetings.
In an apparent reference to Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot's camp, Pilot said some leaders in Rajasthan were trying to fuel speculation that he is joining the BJP and that he would like to categorically state that he was not doing so.
"If they don't respond within two days, then it will be considered that they are withdrawing their membership from CLP," said Rajasthan Congress in-charge Avinash Pande.
Pilot has been upset since the Congress picked Gehlot as the chief minister after the 2018 assembly polls, while his own supporters insisted that he deserved credit for the party's victory as its state unit president.
The current crisis erupted last Friday when the Rajasthan Police sent a notice to Pilot, asking him to record his statement over the alleged bid to bring down the government.
The same notice was sent to the chief minister and some other MLAs, but Pilot's supporters claimed that it was only meant to humiliate him.
The Special Operation Group (SOG) had sent out the notices after tapping a phone conversation between two men, who were allegedly discussing the fall of the Gehlot government.
Pilot and his two loyalist ministers were sacked from the Ashok Gehlot Cabinet on Tuesday, buoyed as it was by the chief minister showing his strength the Congress Legislative Party meeting the previous day.
Apart from Pilot, Vishwendra Singh and Ramesh Meena were also axed from the ministry, Ashok Gehlot later conveyed to Governor Kalraj Mishra in writing, seeking his approval.
Pilot was also sacked as the state Congress unit president. In his place, Govind Singh Dotasara was appointed state PCC chief.
However, the drama is not fully over as the Pilot camp as well as the BJP asked Gehlot to prove his strength on the floor of the Assembly. The buzz in Jaipur is Gehlot is confident about his numbers and might want to take a floor test in a few days. And Pilot is expected to speak his mind on Wednesday.
The axe fell after the second CLP meeting in as many days, which was boycotted by the Pilot camp.
The meeting adopted a resolution authorising action against the rebels, who are holed up at a resort in Gurugram. The CLP meeting was held at the Fairmount resort where all of them were shepherded to by Gehlot.
Party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala later announced the big punitive action. He said Pilot was ensnared by the BJP into working to bring down the Congress government although he was given a lot of respect and key posts all through his career in the party.
Party sources said the high command decided to take firm action after Pilot ignored repeated communication to join the CLP meeting and discuss his grievances there.
“Pilot was not ready to yield and Gehlot on firm ground as he enjoyed support of most of the MLAs. Even the party’s top leadership was against hard bargaining with Pilot. All efforts to find a middle ground failed,” said a senior party leader.
“Both Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka were in touch with him but he decided to push his rivalry with Gehlot too far without accepting that he does not enjoy majority support to validate his claim for the CM’s post,” said another party leader.
After meeting the Governor, Gehlot charged that Pilot had been working with the BJP for the past six months to topple his government.
“Pilot and his group are simply obeying whatever the BJP is dictating to them. The resort where they are staying has been organised and managed by the BJP and those people who are experts at toppling governments are controlling the entire game in the resort.”
Pilot and his loyalist MLAs continued to stay in Gurugram.
A video clip from his camp appeared to show they had 16 MLAs. Later, the Maharashtra unit of the Congress suspended former spokesperson Sanjay Jha, who had already been dropped from his post. The action was taken for ‘anti-party activities and breach of discipline’.
The Pilot camp also demanded a floor test in the state assembly to know the number of legislators backing Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.
The Ashok Gehlot camp has been saying that they enjoyed the support of 109 MLAs, a claim contested by the Pilot loyalists.
In the run-up to the Congress Legislature Party meeting in Jaipur on Tuesday, Pilot loyalist Ramesh Meena said, "A floor test should be conducted in the assembly. This will expose the claim that the Ashok Gehlot government has the support of 109 MLAs."
Meena is among the MLAs who skipped the Congress Legislature Party meetings on Monday and Tuesday.
He, along with Sachin Pilot and Vishvendra Singh, was removed from the state cabinet later in the day.
The Congress has also sacked Pilot from the post of the party's state unit chief.
Senior party leader and Sardarshahr MLA Bhanwarlal Sharma too claimed that the figure of 109 being projected in the support of Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is incorrect.
The MLA said he will not join the BJP but wants a change in the leadership.
"The figure of 109 figure being project is completely fake. The Congress has 107 MLAs. We are 22 together and six more will join us. Not more than 81 MLAs are on the other side, otherwise, what was the need to show the strength before the media and camp the legislators in a hotel," Sharma said.
He said the situation will become clear once the floor test is conducted.
The seven-time MLA also "blamed" Congress general secretary Avinash Pande for the mess, accusing him of being "one-sided".
He said the government is not in a position to save itself.
Another Congress MLA, Deependra Singh Shekhawat, too had raised the same demanded on Monday.
"We want a floor test at the earliest, which will make the situation crystal clear. We are with the Congress and Congress (state) president Sachin Pilot," Singh had told reporters on Monday.
Congress MLA Murari Lal Meena, who is close to Sachin Pilot, alleged that Chief Minister Gehlot neglected party leaders and workers who worked hard for five years.
In a tweet, he said, "Improvement is necessary to save the Congress. Otherwise, the party will get only 11 seats in 2023 (assembly elections)," Murari Lal Meena said.
Meanwhile, Ramesh Meena along with Vishvendra Singh and party MLA Deepender Singh Shekhawat, issued a statement, saying they were taking a stand at a time when their leader was "threatened with notices from the SOG under charges of sedition and criminal conspiracy".
"We have for years worked with dedication, devotion and service towards the party. And we are taking a stand to protect our dignity and self-respect," they said.
The statement further said, "This is unprecedented in the Indian democracy and the Congress Party, for whom we have toiled with sweat and blood. Under the leadership of Sachin Pilot, we have made every effort in the past six years to strengthen the party and bring it to power in Rajasthan at a time when it had been reduced to an insignificant number in the state assembly."
Public humiliation of Sachin Pilot is something that is totally unacceptable and those responsible for meeting out this treatment need to be made accountable, it said.
The MLAs said they want that their self-respect be restored as they are not "clamouring" for any post or position, contrary to reports in the media.
We have been senior members of the Congress for many years and have held many positions within the party and the government and are not lured by inducements, they said in the statement.
The numbers game
In the 200-member Rajasthan Assembly, the Congress has 107 MLAs and the BJP 72. An estimated 102 MLAs, including allies, attended the CLP meeting called by Gehlot on Monday.
Among the Congress allies in RS polls, the Bharatiya Tribal Party with two MLAs decided to stay neutral in the floor test.
(With ENS and PTI Inputs)