A quiet but hugely significant change is likely to take place in Rajasthan, India. Sachin Pilot, 44, is all set to take over from Ashok Gehlot as Chief Minister in the northern Indian state.
The change of guard or the culmination of operation ‘Desert Storm’ will finally see Pilot take flight sometime in the middle of next month.
Rajasthan is slated to go to the polls next year and is only one of two states in India where the Congress party is still in power.
High level sources told me that in his meeting with Sonia Gandhi, interim Congress president held last week, Pilot warned of the new surge of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Rajasthan, which has till date been a bi-polar polity that traditionally sees the Congress face off against the BJP.
Pilot told Gandhi that in the current scenario it would be difficult to bring the Congress back to power. He reminded her of the Gandhi family's promise of giving him a shot at the top job.
Pilot said he had no intention of defecting to the BJP and if the party did not want him to be the CM, he was happy to work with any face other than Gehlot — the current CM, who is unlikely to win the election for the Congress.
The chances of a change of guard became higher as Gehlot threw a public snitch saying that speculation of him quitting was wrong and would take away from governance. In a seeming contradiction, he added, “my resignation is permanently with Mrs Gandhi”.
It is hardly a secret that Pilot and Gehlot don’t see eye to eye but, Pilot, who is one of the Congress’s most well known leaders, has decided that he will make his dream job come true this time.
Says a source close to Pilot, “he’s very clear that he will not give up his political space, his zameen (land) for any lollipop. His political space is Rajasthan and he knows that leaders who give up their roots don’t retain political importance. Pilot has displayed impeccable patience with the promise given to him but is clear that the time is now or else it will be difficult to galvanise the Rajasthan Congress to be battle ready for elections”.
Gehlot who used to count the late Ahmed Patel, political secretary to Sonia Gandhi, as his most important backer, has currently been backed in to a corner.
If Mrs Gandhi asks for his resignation, he is unlikely to say no. But, that doesn’t mean the change will be smooth or that Gehlot will go down without a fight. Gehlot is even likely to follow a scorched earth policy in government to make the going tough for Pilot.
Earlier Gehlot desperately tried to ensure that Pilot moves to the central Congress and out of Rajasthan, setting off speculation of a central job for Pilot in the Congress organisation.
Pilot resisted strongly. He has always been available to campaign for the Congress. In the last round of state elections, he kept himself firmly in Rajasthan.
Sources close to Pilot say that he pointed out Punjab as a classic case of the Congress losing power because the required changes were made too late.
Pilot is believed to have said, “Amrinder Singh lost, Channi lost, Navjot Singh Sidhu lost and the Congress lost the government. The only gainer was the AAP, who won power”.
Hoovering up Congress vote share
This is actually true. In state after state the AAP is hoovering up the Congress vote share and eating the grand old party’s share for lunch.
The AAP deliberately targets the vote share of Congress party which is in electoral torpor. Pilot presented the AAP as a clear and present danger to the Congress party in Rajasthan. He wants his party to strategise against both the AAP and BJP.
The Congress, currently in implosion - facing a washout in elections - is currently trying to revive its fortunes and stem the loss of the leadership heading for the exit gate.
Pilot has refused to follow in the footsteps of young Congress leaders Himnata Sarma Biswa, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasada and R P N Singh who have already defected to the BJP. Other leaders such as Sushmita Mohan Deb have defected to the Trinamool Congress.
While pitching for the CM’s job, Pilot had rebelled last year only to return to the Congress fold when he fell short of the required MLAs to topple the Gehlot government.
The Gandhi family is wary of his ambitions and wants to ensure that he does not rebel again especially just before a crucial election.
So will Rajasthan witness Pilot taking off in to form a government or operation desert storm 2:0?
May will bring the answer.