New Delhi, Nov 24 (PTI) Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot dubbed his former deputy Sachin Pilot a "gaddar" (traitor) on Thursday and said he cannot replace him as he had revolted against the Congress in 2020 and tried to topple the government.
Pilot hit back saying it is unbecoming of someone like Gehlot's stature to use such language and and added such mud-slinging would not help and it was the duty of everyone in the organisation to strengthen the party to help bring a Congress government again in Rajasthan.
Pilot, who walked alongside Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Madhya Pradesh, said he would never use such language and asked the chief minister to focus on the assembly polls in Gujarat where he was the senior observer.
The war of words have further widened the fissures in the Congress party in Rajasthan, where Assembly polls are slated next year. The Bharat Jodo Yatra, led by Rahul Gandhi, is set to enter the desert state in a few days.
The Congress on its part said Gehlot's differences with Pilot would be resolved in a manner that strengthens the party and asserted that the focus right now should be on ensuring the success of the Bharat Jodo Yatra.
"Ashok Gehlot is a senior and experienced political leader. Whatever differences he has expressed with his younger colleague Sachin Pilot will be resolved in a manner that strengthens the Congress party," AICC general secretary communications Jairam Ramesh said in a statement.
"Right now it is the duty of each and every Congressman and Congresswoman to make the already hugely successful Bharat Jodo Yatra even more impactful in north Indian states," he also said.
Pilot on his part said it was unbecoming of a leader like Gehlot with so much experience to make such remarks.
The former Rajasthan deputy chief minister said "name-calling, mud-slinging and accusations that are going around are serving little purpose" and it is time to unitedly fight the BJP and strengthen the Congress.
"It is unbecoming of someone with such experience to use this language, make such completely false and baseless allegations. It serves no purpose when we have to fight unitedly....previously also Ashok Gehlot ji has been making such allegations against me for a long time," the former Union minister said, adding that it is time for all to work together to defeat the BJP.
The verbal spat between the two senior leaders in Rajasthan has once again brought to the fore the internal bickering in the Congress and the tussle between the old and young guards. Several young leaders have left the Congress in the recent past over differences with seniors after they felt it was time for them to take a leadership role.
Gehlot alleged that Union Home Minister and senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Amit Shah was involved in Pilot's rebellion, when some Congress MLAs loyal to him were holed up in a Gurugram resort for more than a month, and Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan visited them often, claiming that he has proof that an amount of Rs 10 crore was paid to each of those legislators, including Pilot.
The veteran leader also said the Congress can replace him with any of its 102 MLAs in Rajasthan except Pilot if the top leadership felt that the prospects of the party would improve in next year's Assembly polls.
"The MLAs will never accept someone who has revolted and has been dubbed a gaddar. How can he become the chief minister? How can the MLAs accept such a person as the chief minister? I have proof that Rs 10 crore each was distributed to the MLAs holed up in a Gurugram resort for toppling the Congress government in Rajasthan," Gehlot told NDTV.
He said one will never find an example where a party president "tries to topple his own government" and had to be sacked both as state unit president and deputy chief minister.
The remarks came at a time when campaigning for Gujarat elections is at its peak and Gehlot is the senior observer for polls there.
Rajasthan BJP chief Satish Punia has, however, denied the charge that the saffron party was involved in paying money to Congress legislators in 2020 to defect.
Pilot also denied the charges of money changing hands, saying the allegations are "false and baseless".
Gehlot said if Pilot had apologised to the MLAs and won them over, things would have been different.
"Till now, he has not apologised. If he had apologised, I would not have had to apologise," the chief minister said, referring to his apology to Sonia Gandhi after 90 MLAs did not allow a Congress Legislature Party meeting to take place.
Asked if Pilot can still replace him if the high command decides so, Gehlot said it is a hypothetical question. "How will that happen? That cannot happen," he said.
He said a recent meeting of the party MLAs after they did not allow the CLP meet to take place was not a rebellion but a "revolt against Pilot who tried to topple his own government".
Gehlot and Pilot have been at loggerheads over chief ministership ever since the Congress won the state polls in 2018.
While Gehlot has been saying Pilot's 2020 rebellion cannot be ignored and he does not enjoy the support of a majority of Congress MLAs, the Pilot camp has been claiming the legislators want a change in the leadership.
Gehlot has been saying that the 90 MLAs who had saved the government during Pilot's rebellion are loyal to the party high command and not to him.
He said the legislators wanted Pilot to at least apologise to the party high command and the people of Rajasthan. PTI ASK/SKC SMN