Will Sachin Pilot topple the Gehlot govt in Rajasthan?

·5 min read

Rajasthan Congress leader Sachin Pilot has once again set the cat among the Congress ranks after hanging fire for a year. 

"It has now been 10 months. I was given to understand that there would be swift action by the committee, but now half of the term is done, and those issues haven’t been resolved. It is unfortunate that so many of the party workers who worked and gave their all for getting us the mandate are not being heard," Pilot told the media on Tuesday.

In July last year, Pilot and 18 Congress Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) raised a banner of revolt against Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. They camped at a secret location in Haryana, putting the Gehlot government in jeopardy. 

His actions created a huge furore and he was removed as the Pradesh Congress Committee president.

(Photo by Himanshu Vyas/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
(Photo by Himanshu Vyas/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

He returned to the fold only after the Congress High Command - the Gandhis - personally intervened and set up a committee under general secretary Ajay Maken to redress the grievances of Pilot and his group. 

All this while, the former deputy chief minister of Rajasthan maintained that he had issues with the Gehlot and the manner in which he is handling the functions of the government, but had no grouse against the High Command.

He also clarified that he was never in touch with the Bharatiya Janata Party and had not even thought of quitting the Congress.

However, this time Pilot is not shying away from dragging the High Command through the mud. "The Congress High Command has failed to deliver on the promises that were made to me and other 18 legislators," he firmly fessed up.

The second round of contretemps kicked off a couple of weeks ago when six-time Congress legislator from Gudamalani, Hemaram Choudhary, resigned as MLA.

Hemaram told the media that he was feeling stifled in Congress and was not able to function properly. The veteran leader also obliquely raised questions about the competence of CM Gehlot. 

Hemaram is considered very close to Pilot and his resignation was seen as the handiwork of the former Congress president. Pilot jumped to Hemaram's defence and expressed concerns about his resignation while lavishly lauding his contribution to the state Congress.

Since then, the leaders of both the camps are flagrantly taking potshots at each other in the media. The political temperature is going through the roof in the desert state and the Congress leadership is on tenterhooks.

Gehlot has apparently ordered his administrations to seal the borders of the state so that Pilot and MLAs of his camp can't leave Rajasthan.

The wisps of dissidence between the two leaders began when the High Command chose Gehlot as the CM after the Congress won the Rajasthan assembly elections in 2018. Pilot thought that he was hard done by as he had toiled tirelessly throughout the state between 2014-2018, rebuilding the party that was thoroughly decimated in state polls. 

In 2013, Congress was reduced to their lowest-ever tally (21) in the annals of Rajasthan state elections.

The losing chief minister Gehlot was called to Delhi and accommodated in national politics. He was made general secretary in-charge of Gujarat. Pilot, on the other hand, was elevated to the post of Congress president and was asked to resurrect the party that was reduced to cold cinders. The young politician criss-crossed the state and worked assiduously at grassroots for four years. He propped up the party's organisational structure, which had completely collapsed, and infused vigour among the Congress workers.

But after the 2018 state polls, in which Congress chalked up an impressive win, the High Command bestowed the mantle of chief ministership on Ashok Gehlot and left Pilot to lick his wounds. 

Subsequently, Gehlot packed the Cabinet with his loyalists, leaving scant space for Pilot camp. This sowed the seeds of discontent among the MLAs of Pilot coterie and they openly started flaying their own chief minister. 

The relations between Gehlot and Pilot nosedived and the latter finally raised a banner of revolt against Gehlot govt which culminated in a month-long stand-off last year.

WATCH: Rift in Rajasthan Congress out in open; Pilot vs Gehlot war escalates

While Pilot was restrained in his language amid the kerfuffle, Gehlot went out all guns blazing against Pilot and even called him 'nikamma' and 'nakara' (slothful wastrel). Gehlot also accused Pilot of being hand in glove with the BJP and conspiring to topple his govt - a charge Pilot vehemently denied. 

Pilot relented to end the stand-off for the time being after the intervention of Gandhis but his flaming acrimony towards Gehlot didn't abate. 

His recent diatribe against the Gehlot and the High Command, after a year. couldn't have come at a worse time for the Grand Old Party. It is already beset with desertions - Jitin Prasada being the latest one - and performed disastrously in the recently-held assembly elections in four states.

Himanta Biswa Sarma in Assam and Jyotriditya Scindia in Madhya Pradesh deserted the party in 2015 & 2020 respectively and put the Congress out to pasture in these states. Many senior Congress leaders continue to be at loggerheads with the High Command. In such a scenario, the exit of Pilot, whon is hailed as the most promising Congress leader, would be a body blow for the party.

Unless, the party moves swiftly and deftly settles the complex, simmering matter, they might lose another dynamic, mass leader and possibly a government in Rajasthan.

Follow the author on Twitter (@navneet_mundhra)