In the Indian state of Rajasthan, Sachin Pilot, 43, is likely to get his dream job — Chief Minister (CM). The Young Turk may bag the coveted position in the last lap of the tenure of Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government in the state. Elections are due in Rajasthan on or before December 2023.
Pilot had famously revolted against his boss exactly a year ago, angry at being denied an equitable power share despite working very hard for the Congress to return to power. He worked almost tirelessly for close to six years as the state Congress chief.
Sources close to Pilot reveal that he had conveyed his anger to Sonia Gandhi, interim Congress chief, that promises that were made to him — which ensured that he ended his rebellion and returned to the Congress fold — were not kept.
Pilot took an aggressive stand, saying that he was happy to do any job that the Congress assigned to him but was clear that Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) who supported him had to be accommodated in the Gehlot government and other government bodies like state owned cooperatives.
Pilot has been uncharacteristically patient, awaiting a solution from the Congress ‘high command’. Post his rebellion, a panel had been set up by Sonia Gandhi, which was headed by the late Ahmed Patel, her political adviser. Pilot’s issues kept lingering as the Congress ‘high command’ cited the pandemic as the reason for the lack of action.
The Congress turf war
Meanwhile, Gehlot who hates Pilot's ambitions with a passion, tried to wean away the Pilot camp MLAs by offering them plum jobs.
Watching his support base collapse, Pilot pushed the red button. A two member committee comprising of Ajay Maken and K C Venugopal spent two days in Jaipur and met all the players in the political theatre. Gehlot was pushed to do a cabinet reshuffle to include Pilot loyalists and share the political pie equitably.
Pilot told the central leaders in no uncertain terms that he had to be made CM and had to be given enough time to ensure a victory for the Congress party which — on date — looked unlikely. The biggest question now is that if the Gandhi family has the political heft to force a recalcitrant Gehlot to quit.
Reliable sources told Gulf News that Sonia Gandhi had a word with Gehlot and said that the changes had to happen. It remains to be seen if Gehlot will follow the example of another powerful regional satrap Punjab CM, Amarinder Singh, who after public tantrums accepted the ‘high command’ edict on making Navjot Singh Sidhu, the Punjab Congress chief. Will Gehlot resist the changes?
Sidhu, as the Pilot camp points out, is a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) turncoat who has barely spent five years in the Congress, while Pilot despite being a heirloom politician is a genuine mass leader in the Generation Next of the Congress. Widely reckoned to be a hard worker, Pilot has hit the ground running to preserve his base.
Generational succession plan
Says a Pilot camp follower “everyone in India likes a Miss Universe in the neighbourhood but not at home,” making a metaphorical point that Pilot and his mass acceptance creates insecurity in the Congress leaders.
Hugely in demand in other states as an election campaigner, Pilot is always doing public meetings in Rajasthan which seems to unnerve the Gehlot camp.
Apparently Gehlot has been given some assurances about the political future of his son Vaibhav Gehlot by the Gandhi family.
The Gandhis have already forced a “generational succession plan” in Punjab, publicly signalling that Sidhu is Singh’s successor and now wants to do the same in Rajasthan.
The big political buzz is that Gehlot has agreed to part A of the plan which involves reshuffling his cabinet, which is likely by the beginning of August.
Part B, which involves Gehlot making way for Pilot, is likely to be the deal breaker but, after the Amarinder example, the central Congress leadership is optimistic.
Coinciding with the Gehlot cabinet reshuffle, a massive organisational rejig for the Congress is also on the cards. Pilot has already ruled out returning as state chief of the Rajasthan Congress but, will do any job his party wants as long as he gets his promised turn as CM.
A mass leader
Angry at the lack of reward in the Congress, Jyotiraditya Scindia had previously quit the Congress and brought down the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh. He was rewarded by the BJP and made the cabinet minister for civil aviation in the recent cabinet reshuffle of the Modi government. Another Pilot contemporary, Jitin Prasada also switched over to the BJP recently.
The exits have been a delayed wake up call for the somnolent Congress central leadership, which does not want to lose Pilot. On his part, Pilot is clear that he won’t join the BJP but, will fight for his mass base and his dream job. Pilot is also clear that he will continue his mass outreach and not let his base shrivel.
So as political headwinds blow in Rajasthan, a stormy landing is predicted for Pilot. Gehlot, obviously, will wish his rival crash and burn.
“Pilot completed seven years as the longest serving state chief in Rajasthan. He will not accept any lollipops now,” a Pilot loyalist concluded.