When Independent MLA Babulal Nagar spoke during a public meeting in his Assembly constituency Dudu in Rajasthan on Tuesday, he had an ominous warning for the public.
“I have told you two slogans – ‘Rajiv Gandhi Amar Rahe’ and ‘Ashok Gehlot Zindabad’. Slogans of no third persons should be chanted. Police will pick you up and lock you if you do so. There will be a government case,” Nagar warned a public gathering before it was addressed by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.
While Nagar did not clarify who the “third person” was, few were in doubt that he was referring to former deputy CM Sachin Pilot.
It all started on Monday in Pushkar at the ash immersion ceremony of Gujjar leader Kirori Singh Bainsla, who passed away in March. As state ministers Ashok Chandna and Shakuntala Rawat began to speak, chants hailing Pilot continued to mark the meeting. Shoes were also reportedly thrown at Chandna. Gehlot’s son Vaibhav, who was attending the event, had to make a silent exit under security protection.
Chandna has been targeting Pilot since, alleging that the crowd comprised leaders close to him. Other Gehlot loyalists have scurried to defend the veteran leader and have been making public proclamations in his support.
The developments have put a fresh spotlight on the fault lines within the Rajasthan Congress. The shaky truce since the political crisis in 2020 when Pilot tried to defect with 21 loyalist MLAs is now under constant attack from the two factions targeting each other at every given opportunity.
The latest tipping point between the two camps seems to be the conversation around Gehlot being elevated as the Congress national president and making his way to Delhi.
In fact, Congress MLA Khiladi Lal Bairwa has openly batted for Pilot as a CM candidate, while others such as senior Congress leader Rajendra Chaudhary have mentioned his name. On Pilot’s birthday last week, several MLAs who were not with him during his 2020 rebellion also visited his house, raising speculations.
However, Gehlot’s strength remains his group of loyalist MLAs within his party, and Independent legislators who extended their support to the Congress in 2018 on the condition that he stay as CM.
The CM has also always acknowledged their role. At a meeting in Jhunjhunu recently, he said: “Six BSP MLAs came. There were 12-13 Independents, two from the BTP and two from the CPM… Otherwise, you would have found someone else standing as the CM instead of me. It is with your blessings that I could become the CM for the third time.”
Nagar is one of the Gehlot loyalists who was denied an MLA ticket when Pilot was the state Congress president in 2018. Nagar went on to contest the election as an Independent – one of the 10 to do so after being denied a Congress ticket – and won.
“All of us MLAs are with Gehlotji, whatever people may say. The government could be saved because of you (Gehlot)…We MLAs would have been left on the road,” Health Minister Parsadi Lal Meena said at an event on Tuesday.