JAIPUR: The expansion of the Ashok Gehlot ministry originally demanded by the Sachin Pilot camp has turned more complicated in Rajasthan.
After weeks of pressure from Pilot's followers, six former BSP MLAs who had joined the Congress two years ago and played a crucial role in saving the Gehlot government are now demanding their share of power. Political analysts believe these former BSP MLAs are being encouraged by the Gehlot camp to neutralise the pressure from the Pilot camp.
One of these ex-BSP MLAs, Sandeep Yadav said, "There are issues in Cabinet expansion but it should be done now. It has been delayed for a long time but whenever it is suitable for CM Gehlot and circumstances are right, he should take the decision."
Tijara MLA Sandeep Yadav and three other ex-BSP MLAs also objected to any move by the Congress high command to pacify dissident legislators led by Sachin Pilot, saying it was because of them that the government faced a crisis last year.
Asserting that people who were "loyal" to the party should be "rewarded" in the cabinet expansion, Yadav even remarked that "the government was saved only because we six and other independents stood by it. The Congress high command should not listen to those who endangered the Gehlot government. Instead, those who saved the government should be rewarded."
MLA Yadav, who was earlier in the BJP but moved to the BSP after being denied a BJP ticket for the assembly elections in 2018, further said that instead of listening to rebel MLAs, the Congress high command should reward those who have shown loyalty.
This drew a swift and sharp response from the Pilot camp. Mukesh Bhakar, a known Pilot camp MLA hit back and said those who switch parties frequently were talking about loyalty.
Bhakar claimed, "People of the state know who is trustworthy and who is not. People who have switched three parties in two-and-a-half years because of their greed for power are telling us about loyalty and honesty."
Bhakar was accompanied by Congress MLA from Masuda constituency Rakesh Pareek. He told reporters at a press conference, "This is wrong. They should tell on whose directions they are giving such statements."
Without naming anyone, Bhakar was hinting that the Gehlot camp is fanning the fire being lit by former BSP MLAs.
Many political observers also believe that the Gehlot group may be covertly encouraging the ex-BSP MLAs in order to neutralize the pressure being mounted by the Pilot camp. Nine cabinet berths are vacant in the state and numerous MLAs are eyeing the berths.
Pilot had returned with 18 MLAs last year following a reconciliation after a month-long rebellion against CM Gehlot. He had talked to the media recently and said that even after 10 months, his issues were unresolved and the workers who had worked hard to bring Congress to power were not being heard.
However, the Rajasthan Cabinet expansion is unlikely to happen in a hurry after an Officer on Special Duty (OSD) of CM Ashok Gehlot announced that doctors have advised Gehlot to avoid one-on-one meetings. CM Gehlot has decided he will not meet any individual for a month as a precautionary step to fully recover from Covid-19.
Clearly, as the entire issue of cabinet expansion and political appointments becomes more complex, political turmoil in the Rajasthan Congress is likely to sharpen.