Jaipur: Dissident Congress leader Sachin Pilot began a 125-km foot march from Ajmer to Jaipur on Thursday, challenging Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and the party’s top brass as the state assembly elections approach.
He walked for nearly 25 km on the first day from Ajmer to Tolamal village in Kishangarh where arrangements of tents have been made for his night stay.
A month back, the former deputy chief minister had defied a warning from the party to hold a daylong fast targeting Gehlot on “inaction” over alleged corruption when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was previously in power.
The just-begun five-day yatra mounts further pressure on the party leadership as it hopes to retain the state in the elections at the end of the year.
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“I am taking out this yatra to raise my voice, to hear your voice, and to become the voice of the people,” Pilot, who was sacked as the state Congress chief in 2020 when he led a revolt against Gehlot, said at the start of the ‘padyatra’.
Referring to the scorching heat as “aag ka dariya”, he told his supporters, “This is a river of fire, we have to swim across it.” The Tonk MLA was welcomed by them when he reached Ajmer by train. He addressed a gathering on the Jaipur highway.
Thousands of party workers followed him as the yatra set off. Some held the tricolour and shouted slogans supporting him. Former minister Rajendra Chaudhary and local leader Mahendra Ralwata were present. But known dissident MLAs kept away from Ajmer.
The ‘Jan Sangharsh Yatra’ posters, displayed on some vehicles, had a picture of Pilot with a clenched fist as well as photos of Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Mahatma Gandhi, Bhimrao Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh also featured there.
Apart from corruption, the yatra focuses on cases of paper leaks in government recruitment exams. The Rajasthan Public Service Commission (RPSC) is based in Ajmer, which is also the constituency from where Pilot has been elected to Parliament in the past.
The Congress leader said his march is not against anyone but over issues.
He questioned Gehlot’s reported claim that “no politician or official” was involved in paper leak cases, asking why no bulldozer was sent to the house of RPSC member Babulal Katara who was arrested in the case.
He said when a paper is leaked and cancelled, it creates distrust among lakhs of students and their parents in the system.
Pilot reminded that the party had raised the issue of corruption during the last election in Rajasthan. “We exposed the corruption during the (Vasundhara) Raje government. We demanded a CBI inquiry into the mines scam,” he said.
“Our colleagues brought the Congress to power by shedding blood and sweat, and assured people that we will take action on coming to power,” he said at the public meeting.
He said the party will win the Karnataka Assembly elections because it raised the corruption issue during the campaign.
Pilot said he has been in politics for 23 years, his father was a Union minister and his mother an MP, and not even opponents questioned their loyalty and integrity.
Pilot reached Kishangarh at night and talked to reporters. “We all want change… what can we do differently, we had given all those suggestions in Delhi, some action was also taken in that… but time will tell what happens next,” he said.
Pilot said whatever moves he makes, he does it in front of the people. Targeting Gehlot for using words like ‘gaddar’ (traitor) or ‘nikamma’ (worthless), the Congress leader said it is in the public domain that who used indecent language when he said he has always spoken with respect.
On the issue of corruption, Pilot said Gehlot himself had leveled allegations against the then chief minister Vasundhara Raje while saying that crores of rupees were going to Raje monthly, but he did not take action on the allegations when the party formed the government.
At an event in Jaipur Thursday, Gehlot indirectly referred to dissidence in the party. “In a democracy, those who take everyone along are successful and those who create factions can never become successful,” the chief minister said.
Rajasthan Congress president Govind Singh Dotasra was dismissive of the Pilot’s yatra.
”This is his personal yatra. This is not a Congress organisation yatra,” he told reporters who sought his response.
However, the issue is expected to come up at a meeting being taken by Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, the Rajasthan in-charge at the All India Congress Committee (AICC), in Delhi on Friday.
Dotasra and Rajasthan co-incharges Qazi Muhammad Nizamuddin, Amrita Dhawan and Virendra Rathore will take part in the meeting.
The march comes days after Gehlot accused the MLAs involved in the 2020 revolt of taking money from the BJP. Pilot and 18 other Congress MLAs had then sought a leadership change in Rajasthan.
He was sacked as the party’s state unit president and the deputy chief minister.
The two Congress strongmen in Rajasthan have been at loggerheads over the post of chief minister ever since the party formed the government there in 2018.
Pilot repeated that he had been writing to Gehlot for the past year and a half for action over corruption, but there has been no action.