Cornered for now, Sachin Pilot will be waiting for another chance to strike

FILE PHOTO: Unless there is a strong second line of leadership in the Congress in Rajasthan, Pilot or others like him will be waiting in the wings.
Soon after results of bypolls in Rajasthan’s Ajmer Lok Sabha (LS) constituency were announced, the victorious Congress candidate Raghu Sharma appeared on a television news channel where Congress Rajasthan unit chief Sachin Pilot was being interviewed and fell at his feet. Then, when the interviewer turned to Sharma, the Congress candidate bent again to touch Pilot’s feet. Television recorded it live.

That was in February 2018.

In December the same year, Sharma resigned from the LS to contest Assembly elections in Rajasthan (he won from Kekri, a part of the Ajmer LS constituency) and became health minister in the Ashok Gehlot Cabinet.  Always known as a Gehlot man, much was made of the fact he had decamped to the Pilot camp. Apparently, he returned to the Gehlot fold, for in January 2020, after the horrific death of scores of children in a Kota government hospital, he launched a frontal attack on Pilot (who was public works department, or PWD, minister). Most of the children died of hypothermia as the hospital was in a virtually derelict condition, Sharma claims, despite the PWD being reminded repeatedly that it needed attention.

This — and other incidents — just recounts the fickleness of the average Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), shifting loyalties that Pilot was possibly unable to gauge before he mounted his stillborn rebellion against Gehlot.

Those who have seen Pilot work says he is indefatigable: The Ajmer by-election was an example. He lost his own LS election in 2014 (from Ajmer, incidentally) and was not confident of winning in 2018, agreeing to field Sharma. But he worked as hard for the subsequent polls, no matter how small. He would slog it out, meeting people, establishing contact and listening, all the time, listening to people. The Congress won the panchayat and local body elections, small and big. The credit for these victories should also go to Pilot.

However, his critics say his record of winning elections is not quite as stellar as he would like people to believe and advise a closer look. In the Assembly elections in 2018, 12 Congress candidates had to forfeit their deposit (i.e., they got less than 4 per cent of the total votes cast). Seventeen were at third position. As Pradesh Congress Committee chief from 2014, Pilot was unable to persuade rebels to stand down and 11 rebels defeated official Congress candidates. Critics say the sheen of the Congress victory in the Assembly was dimmed by the fact that at least 40 seats were ‘just spoiled’.

What are the options before Pilot now?

He has an undeniable following in the party. But after being deputy chief minister, being an ordinary MLA will chafe. The control of the party — which could have been an important lever of power — is lost. Either he has to make his peace with the Congress and await rehabilitation or wait, along with his cohorts, for another opportunity to strike. The latter may take time in coming.

But Gehlot’s options are also limited. He is unlikely to contest another election. The political promotion of his son Vaibhav is lost on no one. Unless there is a strong second line of leadership in the Congress in Rajasthan, Pilot or others like him will be waiting in the wings.

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