Rajasthan Chief Minister and Congress leader Ashok Gehlot on Sunday sparked controversy when he "praised" state BJP leaders Vasundhara Raje and Kailash Meghwal for refusing to support the conspiracy to topple his elected government in 2020. However, Gehlot's statement has not gone down well with Raje, who called the statement "a big conspiracy" against her.
Addressing a programme in Dholpur, Gehlot said he, as the then Congress state chief, did not support the toppling of the BJP government led by Bhairon Singh Shekhawat in 1996. Recalling the incident, Gehlot said he thought toppling the Shekhawat government was unfair.
"If I wanted, Bhairon Singh ji's government could have been toppled. I said this was unethical work. The man who is ill, he is getting treatment in America, his condition was very critical and leaders of his party were conspiring to topple his government behind him," Gehlot said.
He continued, "Kailash Meghwal and Vasundhara Raje also said the same thing. They said that we have never had a tradition to bring down elected governments on money power... what wrong did he do?"
Raje is the former Rajasthan chief minister and Meghwal a former speaker of the state assembly and is currently an MLA.
To this, Raje accused Gehlot of speaking lies due to rebellion in his party. In a statement released on Sunday night, Raje said Gehlot has made such outrageous and untrue allegations because of the rebellion happening in his own party and diminishing mass base.
The BJP leader said that no one can insult her as much as Gehlot did in his life. To avoid a historic defeat in the 2023 assembly elections, he is creating such fabricated stories, which is unfortunate and not going to be successful, Raje said.
Gehlot's praise for Raje comes as Rajasthan Assembly goes to polls sometime this year. Gehlot also took a dig at rebel Congress MLAs, stating that they should return the money they had taken from the BJP so that they can carry out their duty without any pressure.
Pointing fingers at Union Ministers Amit Shah, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and Dharmendra Pradhan, Gehlot said they distributed money in Rajasthan. "They are not taking the money back now. I am surprised why they are not demanding the money back from them (the Congress MLAs who had revolted)," he claimed.
"I have even told the MLAs that whatever money they have taken, Rs 10 crore or Rs 20 crore, if you have spent anything, I will give that part or I will get it from AICC (All India Congress Committee)," he said.
Gehlot alleged that if the MLAs did not return the money, they will always be under pressure from Shah. "He is the Union home minister, he will intimidate...in Maharashtra he divided Shiv Sena," he alleged.
In 2020, his then deputy Sachin Pilot and 18 other Congress MLAs revolted against his leadership. The month-long crisis ended after the intervention of Congress high command. Pilot was then removed as the deputy chief minister and state Congress president.
To this allegation, Raje said in her statement that giving and accepting bribes are crimes and if Congress MLAs have taken money, then FIR should be lodged.
Gehlot and Raje have often been accused by their detractors in their own parties of "going soft" on each other, especially when it came to allegations of corruption. Both have denied the allegations.
Recently, Sachin Pilot organised a rebellion against Gehlot by staging a one-day hunger strike demanding that he take action against the Raje Government for alleged corruption.
(With inputs from PTI)