India

Rahul Gandhi Keen To Keep Door Open For Sachin Pilot: Congress Sources

Rahul Gandhi Keen To Keep Door Open For Sachin Pilot: Congress Sources
New Delhi:

Rahul Gandhi is "keen on keeping the door open for Sachin Pilot", sources in the Congress said late this evening -- hours after the party challenged the rebel leader to stop fraternizing with the BJP and give up the hospitality of a BJP-ruled state. Sources said the party has asked Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot - who launched a sharp attack on his former deputy earlier today -- to tone down his statements.

Mr Gandhi has had no direct contact with Mr Pilot yet, though he has spoken to him through emissaries once over the weekend, Congress sources said. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had touched base with him thrice.

Much now depends on Mr Pilot but the party has no indication about his next move, sources said.

Still, the Congress has been charting a rough course for Mr Pilot that involves a cooling-off period, sources earlier said.

The Congress action has been swift against the key Rajasthan leader, who had been camping out in Delhi for the better part of the weekend. Not only has he been stripped of his posts in the party and the government, the party has also initiated disqualification proceedings in the assembly against him and his loyalist MLAs.

Today, the party softened its tone after Mr Pilot declared that he is not joining the BJP. But shortly after, senior leader Randeep Surjewala said he should stop his exchanges with the BJP leaders.

"We want to tell Pilot that if you don't want to go to the BJP then don't accept Haryana's hospitality. If you don't want to go to the BJP, then stop talking to any BJP leader or member," Mr Surjewala said.

In the evening, Ashok Gehlot made a series of remarks that reflected the ongoing hostilities between the two leaders. Reiterating his allegations of horse trading by the BJP ahead of the Rajya Sabha elections, Mr Gehlot accused Mr Pilot of being implicated.

The Chief Minister, whose government was pushed to the brink of collapse following Mr Pilot's rebellion, said, "The former PCC chief was involved in dealings with BJP. I have proof of horse-trading".

"Money was offered. And who gave the clarification that nothing was happening? Those who were themselves part of the conspiracy are giving clarifications," Mr Gehlot told reporters, mentioning the figure of Rs 20 crore.

A swift reality check followed from Team Pilot. Two MLAs who switched to the Congress from Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party at Mr Gehlot's behest, questioned how much money they were paid.

"Today they say that there is talk of crores of "len-den" (give and take). I want to ask the Chief Minister -- how much money was paid to us when I joined the Congress? Tell the truth. There was deceit and they told us there will be growth," said former minister Ramesh Meena, who was one of the leaders who made the switch.