Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has launched an all-out attack against arch rival Sachin Pilot. In an exclusive interview with NDTV, he took time out from campaigning with Rahul Gandhi in Gujarat to deliver his biggest takedown yet of Mr Pilot.
Here is the full transcript of the interview
NDTV: Hello and welcome to this NDTV exclusive with Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. The elections in Rajasthan are more than a year away. In fact, the elections right now are in Gujarat, where Mr Gehlot has been campaigning. But frankly the battle in a sense in Rajasthan has already begun. Will the Congress’ internal turmoil prove to be an obstacle to Mr Gehlot as he seeks re-election?
Ashok ji, thank you very very much, for being with us now. We are in Pali district now. You have been travelling all day, holding meetings, some scouts are also waiting for you. Tell me Ashok ji, there are elections in Rajasthan, there is time, but whatever is happening in the last few months, what we saw, is that causing tension, problem for the party’s situation here?
Ashok Gehlot: I have no tension. And there is none. Media is creating more. Some bickering happens in all states, some rifts also happen. Media wants that it always seems like there are two groups here, etc. I have noticed this is media’s approach everywhere.
NDTV: Is this only media? You know 2 months back, so much tumult had happened here. 90 plus MLAs rebelled; that is not a small thing?
Ashok Gehlot: It was not rebellion. In a way, because there was a rebellion earlier (by Sachin Pilot), when people had stayed in hotel for 34 days. These 90 people who had gathered (the Jaipur rebels) were those had supported in saving the government at that time. Without them the government would not have been saved.
NDTV: So you are saying they were loyalists of Congress in a way?
Ashok Gehlot: They were loyalists of the high command. No Chief Minister can save the government without high command. If the high command gives blessing, then people support.
NDTV: What was said was that these MLAs were your loyalists. That they were Ashok Gehlot’s loyalists. And they did this at your behest.
Ashok Gehlot: This was nonsense, saying that. Everybody knows me, The whole country knows what my nature is. This party and the Gandhi family has for 50 years continuously rewarded me. I have been a five-time MP, three-time Union minister, three-time AICC general secretary, three-time state Congress President, three-time Chief Minister.
NDTV: So you are saying this revolt had nothing to do with you?
Ashok Gehlot: The question does not even arise. If even one MLA says it, I will leave the state.
NDTV: Then why were they angry?
Ashok Gehlot: I’m telling you. They were angry, because news was spread that Sachin Pilot will be made Chief Minister. He himself also behaved this way. People thought he is going to be Chief Minister.
NDTV: Who behaved like that? Mr Pilot?
Ashok Gehlot: Pilot called many MLAs, he said you leave it to high command, an observer will come to take your views. So the MLAs felt that there may be a one line resolution today, tomorrow will be the swearing in (of Pilot). Because of this rumour, all of them gathered there.
NDTV: What was their issue if Mr Pilot becomes Chief Minister?
Ashok Gehlot: The problem was that because he was pulling the government down. Amit Shah was also involved in it, Dharmendra Pradhan was also involved in it. All had a meeting in Delhi.
NDTV: (Meetings) with whom?
Ashok Gehlot: Some of our MLAs had also gone no? Some of them had meetings. Some stayed in Manesar for 34 days. In a resort. So our MLAs got angry. They said this is unusual, that the party president goes to the opposition to topple his own govt.
NDTV: Mr Pilot was state party president at the time?
Ashok Gehlot: Yes. He was Deputy Chief Minister too. It must not have happened in the history of the country before this, that a party president went to the opposition to topple his own govt. It must have never happened in history.
NDTV: You are saying this is why MLAs had a problem?
Ashok Gehlot: Yes. The MLAs were loyal to high command, were loyal even now. They have highest the respect and regard towards Madam Sonia Gandhi. They were angry that the observer was coming and would ask them to endorse Pilot. Pilot was requesting the MLAs himself. So such a situation was created.
NDTV: But if high command themselves gave directions to the observer, to garner support for Pilot? Maybe the high command itself wanted Mr Pilot to be Chief Minister?
Ashok Gehlot: How could they bear making Pilot Chief Minister? People who suffered for 34 days, we know how we survived the 34 days. We had to protest at Raj Bhavan. I was also present there. We worked hard to save the government.
NDTV: No no. I’m saying, if the high command wanted to make Mr Pilot Chief Minister, then?
Ashok Gehlot: No no no. Can’t make him Chief Minister. There has been some communication gap. How can they make him? A man who doesn’t have 10 MLAs. Who revolted. Who has been called traitor. He betrayed the party, is a traitor. How can people accept him?
NDTV: But Mr Pilot has denied that he had nothing to do with BJP?
Ashok Gehlot: No no. He can’t say that. The whole game was theirs. Rs 10 crore was distributed by the BJP. I have proof.
NDTV: To all?
Ashok Gehlot: I don’t know to who all, some got 5 crore, some 10 crore. In fact the money was picked up from BJP office in Delhi. Many have picked the money up from there. They have told me themselves.
NDTV: So you are saying that when Mr Pilot denies all this, saying have nothing to do with BJP…
Ashok Gehlot: Who? who? I am hearing this for the first time.
NDTV: You are hearing it for the first time?
Ashok Gehlot: Yes, hearing it for the first time.
NDTV: But Mr Pilot has said so?
Ashok Gehlot: No no. He must have told you.
NDTV: No, not just me. He has told the media, that ‘I have nothing to do with BJP. I was unhappy within the Congress, and I so I revolted’
Ashok Gehlot: No no. If he had gone to AICC headquarters and sat there, it would have been different. For the past 50 years, protesters have gone to AICC. They have spoken to Madam (Sonia Gandhi). Raised their complaints. First time I saw somebody went to Manesar. Dharmendra Pradhan used to go to Manesar. Our 2 independent MLAs had also gone there separately. They were stopped at the hotel. They were not from the Congress. Dharmendra Pradhan used to meet them there. It was all the BJP’s game.
NDTV: But Ashok ji, if what you are saying is true, why has Pilot not been kicked out by Congress? In a way, he is back in the Congress?
Ashok Gehlot: It is for the first time some State Congress President has been sacked. Sacking is not usual practise. (Usually) resignation is asked, and they give their resignation. Why was he sacked? Why did I as Chief Minister sack him as Deputy Chief Minister?
NDTV: But if he has gone through his punishment, why can’t he be Chief Minister?
Ashok Gehlot: You do not get it. The MLAs are angry. They wanted that Pilot should have at least apologised to the high command, he should have apolgised to the people of Rajasthan, to the MLAs.
NDTV: He did not apologise?
Ashok Gehlot: Till date, Pilot has not apologised. If he had apologised, I would not have had to apologise.
NDTV: Meaning you would have not have had to apologise to Sonia Gandhi?
Ashok Gehlot: If Pilot had apologised, there would have been no revolt agains him. The 90 MLAs’ revolt was against Pilot. And after many of our ministers had said also that cannot accept gaddar, traitor…
NDTV: The MLAs are saying that we wont accept a ‘gaddar’. But you also agree with this?
Ashok Gehlot: I accept it, of course! Why not?
NDTV: You also say it?
Ashok Gehlot: I also say it. Make one of 102 who were loyal the CM, there is no problem. But how will we accept the man who betrayed us?
NDTV: So you are ready to accept someone else as CM? Somebody other than Mr Pilot?
Ashok Gehlot: Listen to me. I’m still ready. I’m loyal to the high command. They have to decide what is in the interest of the party. If they want to keep me, keep me. I have no objections if another face comes as long as we can win elections.
NDTV: What if they make Pilot the new face?
Ashok Gehlot: How can he be made? Nobody will accept him!
NDTV: Nobody will accept him?
Ashok Gehlot: How will they? You tell me.
NDTV: But Ashok ji, Mr Pilot says he was sidelined so much by you, that is why he got angry and decamped with his supporters?
Ashok Gehlot: This is absolutely wrong. Question does not even arise. How can we sideline?
NDTV: That he was not given power, his supporters were stopped from important positions?
Ashok Gehlot: Absolutely wrong. In fact his supporters have told Ajay Maken that we have no complaints against the Chief Minister. We have come back. After coming back, we treated Pilot well, still. Have done no discrimination with anyone.
NDTV: But the high command may not see all this the same way?
Ashok Gehlot: What do you know?
NDTV: But you yourself said you had to apologise to the high command?
Ashok Gehlot: I did so because it was my moral responsibility. Despite my being Chief Minister, the MLAs did not come to the meeting. That was not revolt, it was their loyalty to the high command. They were angry because Pilot himself was saying that he got congratulatory messages.
NDTV: So high command is not angry with you then? When you met Sonia ji, was she upset with what happened?
Ashok Gehlot: Ask Sonia Gandhi that.
NDTV: But you were in the meeting?
Ashok Gehlot: I have the highest regard for the high command.
NDTV: But you were going to file nomination as party president, and then you met Sonia Gandhi and came out saying you were not going to file. What happened?
Ashok Gehlot: It is between them and me.
NDTV: But why did you withdraw?
Ashok Gehlot: It is between them and me.
NDTV: Ok. But overall are things not stable in Rajasthan? Ajay Maken wants to quit as central observer?
Ashok Gehlot: Unhappiness is common. Today 33 people of BJP are rebelling in Gujarat, 22 in Himachal.
NDTV: But Ajay Maken is senior, he is an observer?
Ashok Gehlot: This bickering happens in all big parties. I believe by and large there is peace in Rajasthan. Everybody wants to work together.
NDTV: Mr Maken says there has been no action against the MLAs who revolted?
Ashok Gehlot: I dont want to comment on this right now, because the matter will get distorted.
NDTV: But the show cause notice was in public domain?
Ashok Gehlot: No no. It is the duty of the disciplinary committee. They have to see whose mistake it was, whose it wasn’t. What can I do about that?
NDTV: Ashok ji, you are saying that everything is fine in Rajasthan, but is it decided you will be Chief Minister?
Ashok Gehlot: We are going to form government, why are you troubling us?
NDTV: No no. We are not troubling
Ashok Gehlot: We are going to form the next govt in Rajasthan.
NDTV: Will it be under your leadership?
Ashok Gehlot: The atmosphere is such that it seems we are going to form govt. It is a great ground situation. We have so many great schemes. Everybody is happy. I think this is the first time, or it is after a long time, that there is no anti-incumbency in Rajasthan.
NDTV: I understand you are saying you will form the govt, but will it be under your leadership? .
Ashok Gehlot: Today I am here (as Chief Minister). Today it is me.
NDTV: But what if High Command signals that they want change? Have they given you any such indication?
Ashok Gehlot: They have given me no such indication (that they want change). I know that High Command will do justice with Rajasthan. We need to form the govt in Rajasthan. If we form the govt in Rajasthan, then there will more Congress state govts in other states. This is our focus.
NDTV: You are saying…
Ashok Gehlot: I want to say something else. I have said this in August too. It was said that I am doing this (the revolt) to be Chief Minister. Let me tell you, this (the revolt) happened in September, October. In August itself, I had told Sonia Gandhi and Ajay Maken my feelings that it is important that we form govt in Rajasthan. I have been Chief Minister three times, and held other posts. For me being the Chief Minister is not important. What is important is that if we conduct a survey– you conduct a survey, I will also conduct a survey– if it emerges our chances are better with me as Chief Minister, then I am here. If they feel, no, I need to move from the Chief Minister post, and we need to do some social engineering, based on caste, community or whatever, and only then we will be able to form govt, then I have no prob withdrawing from the Chief Minister post. I also said, Amarinder Singh had revolted. I said that if I withdraw, I will continue to work and campaign like I am the Chief Minister.
NDTV: So you will not revolt (if you are not Chief Minister)?
Ashok Gehlot: I will work hard to form the govt. I am withdrawing myself. I have told you an open secret. In Jaisalmer, when the observer had come, I was at the Pakistan border and I had given interview (saying the same). you must have heard it.
NDTV: So you are saying you won’t revolt even if you are removed as the Chief Minister?
Ashok Gehlot: What do you mean remove? I said I am withdrawing myself (if need be). How will you remove? I’m offering to withdraw myself.
NDTV: I understand what you are saying is that you are willing to withdraw yourself. But my question is, if they replace you with Mr Pilot, would you accept it?
Ashok Gehlot: How will that happen? That can’t happen.
NDTV: What if you are replaced with Mr Pilot, would you revolt?
Ashok Gehlot: It can’t be. Why are you asking such hypothetical questions?
NDTV: Mr Pilot says in 2018, when you became Chief Minister, he was promised a rotating Chief Minister formula.
Ashok Gehlot: It won’t look nice if I say something on this. You can ask Rahul Gandhi.
NDTV: So are you saying nothing of the sort was promised?
Ashok Gehlot: The question does not even arise. Nothing like this happened. But if he still says it, then ask Rahul Gandhi about it.
NDTV: So was there no such arrangement?
Ashok Gehlot: There is no question about it. It was not even discussed.
NDTV: What is the issue between you and Sachin Pilot? Why not settle the issues? Is it not hurting Congress?
Ashok Gehlot: In 2009, when I had become Chief Minister, and the Lok Sabha elections were happening, we won 20 seats here in Rajasthan. I was called to Delhi to meet the party’s Working Committee. I gave my opinion to Ahmed Patel; and Pilot knows about this. I recommended that he be made a Union Minsiter.
NDTV: You recommended that Mr Pilot be made a Union Minister?
Ashok Gehlot: Yes. I made the recommendation because before that, 17 Gurjars were killed here in Rajasthan in a fiiring incident during Vasundhara Raje’s time. Meenas and Gurjars had fought at the time. Namo Narain Meena was a minister already in UPA-1. This was UPA-2, and i said he would be minister again. So i said, if you make a Gurjar (Sachin Pilot) a minister, it will at least quell the fight between Gurjars and Meenas. It was a psychological move. It would also make governance easier for me… I also got a call from Pilot asking me to recommend him for the minister post. I said ‘I have spoken to them Sachin, and I have hopes, that everything will be fine.’ I conveyed this to him. This is it.
NDTV: So are you saying there are no personal differences between you? Then why has this become such a big issue now? Why has it become Pilot vs Gehlot?
Ashok Gehlot: This even I don’t know
NDTV: You would not accept that he has been marginalised by you?
Ashok Gehlot: The question does not arise.
NDTV: Are you saying that you are willing to make peace?
Ashok Gehlot: Forget the issues between Pilot and me. Why is the media meddling in this?
NDTV: Lastly, you seem confident, that despite all this, Congress will perform, but Rajasthan has this repeating pattern (of voting out the incumbent government)?
Ashok Gehlot: There is no pattern, we can break patterns. It looks like it will change this time, based on the response of the people. I think we would form the government.
NDTV: Is there a risk that if Sachin Pilot is not made the Chief Minister, he will revolt again?
Ashok Gehlot: You are asking hypothetical questions again. I don’t answer hypothetical questions
NDTV: But you are a politician, and as a politician you look at the future and assess if there is any risk. Is this a risk? Do you think there could be issues again?
Ashok Gehlot: All these are hypothetical questions. I have no response to them. Media should teach people to love each other, not to fight.
NDTV: We are not making people fight; what was our role in what happened! Anyway, let’s see. Thank you Ashok ji that you spoke to us. let’s see what happens in the elections.
Ashok Gehlot: Everything will be fine.
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