The Congress on Sunday demanded the resignation of Gajendra Singh Shekhawat from the Union Cabinet, saying he has no moral authority to continue when he is heard on audio clips that suggest a Bharatiya Janata Party conspiracy to topple the government in Rajasthan.
Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot rejected the BJP's dismissal of the clip in which the minister's voice is purportedly heard, telling a television channel that he is prepared to quit politics over the charge that it is a “fabricated tape”.
The Congress demand for Shekhawat's resignation came amid speculation that Gehlot may seek a floor test in the state assembly early next week to prove that the majority of the MLAs are with him in the tussle for power with dissident Sachin Pilot.
The speculation was triggered by Gehlot's 45-minute meeting Saturday with Governor Kalraj Mishra, officially on the COVID-19 situation in the state.
"The decision on when and how the floor test will take place has to be taken by the chief minister and the government,” senior party leader Ajay Maken said when questioned over the speculation.
“It is the CM's discretion to go ahead when required and if it is required," he told reporters.
The BJP's Gulab Chand Kataria, who is the Leader of Opposition in the assembly, said only a floor test can tell whether the government is in majority or not.
The government's decision may also depend on Monday's proceedings in the Rajasthan high court, where a division bench is hearing a petition filed by Sachin Pilot and 18 other Congress MLAs against the speaker's disqualification notice.
The MLAs want the court to quash the notice sent by Speaker C P Joshi on a Congress complaint that they had skipped two legislative party meetings despite a whip, and should be disqualified from the state assembly.
The speaker, who has sought the MLAs' replies, will act on the notices on Tuesday evening.
Amid the face-off between the Gehlot camp and Pilot's group, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said it is now up to the rebel leader to fall in the BJP's “illusory trap” or return to the fold and discuss their differences with the “family”.
He said senior party leaders had talked to him several times in recent days.
In an interview to PTI, Congress veteran Digvijaya Singh said he had tried to get in touch with Pilot three or four times but the Rajasthan leader did not take the calls.
"Age is on your side. Ashok (Gehlot) may have offended you, but all such issues are best resolved amicably. Don't make the mistake that Scindia made,” he advised, referring to Jyotiraditya Scindia witching sides to join the BJP months back.
In his press conference, Ajay Maken focused on the audio clips, on the basis of which the Special Operation Group of Rajasthan Police has registered an FIR.
The FIR does not identify “Gajendra Singh” referred to the clip as Union minister Shekhawat, a senior BJP leader from Rajasthan.
Shekhawat has earlier denied that he figures in the clip and said he is open to a probe.
"If Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat is claiming that it is not his voice and the reference in the audio clip is to some other Gajendra Singh, then why is he afraid of giving his voice samples," Maken asked.
He said the Anti-Corruption Bureau of the state police too has registered a case in connection with the audio clips.
The Congress leader claimed that police in Haryana and Delhi are giving protection to the rebel Rajasthan Congress MLAs.
He accused the Centre of invoking the CBI as a threat to the state government, so that it stops the probe into the “conspiracy”.
Maken also asked why a Rajasthan Police team was “stopped by Haryana Police” when it went to a Gurgaon hotel to collect the voice samples of MLAs Bhanwarlal Sharma and Vishvendra Singh.
The Congress says the MLAs in the Pilot group are holed up in two hotels in Gurgaon in BJP-run Haryana.
If the BJP has no role in the plot, why did the dissident MLAs take shelter in Haryana, he asked.
The MLAs belonging to the Gehlot camp are also camping together, at a resort the on outskirts of the Rajasthan capital.
On Saturday, the BJP had demanded a CBI probe, accusing the Congress government of illegal phone-tapping. The Centre has sought a report from the Gehlot government on the allegations.
Including the dissidents, the Congress has 107 MLAs in the 200-member assembly and the BJP 72.
If the 19 Congress dissidents are disqualified, the current strength of the state assembly will reduce to 181, slashing the half-way mark to 91 and making it easier for Gehlot to retain majority support.
In the past, the ruling party has claimed the support of 13 independents, two MLAs each from the CPM and the Bhartiya Tribal Party, and one from the Rashtriya Lok Dal.