The Pilot vs Gehlot drama in Rajasthan has revealed a festering wound, which the Bharatiya Janata Party has always accused the Congress of concealing, especially while choosing its chief ministers in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The BJP has accused the Congress of being ‘darbari’ and favouring the old guard by dismissing or undermining young leaders. It is said that the Congress doesn’t promote younger leaders because it doesn’t want anyone to overshadow Rahul Gandhi.
But the recent turn of events, involving Jyotiraditya Scindia, Aditi Singh and now Sachin Pilot, have made it clear it’s the Congress’ impatient younger lot that is out to break ranks with the party. Their individual reasons could be different — greed, hunger for power, desperation, flimsy ideology, self-preservation or a genuine organisational issue within the grand old party. But they seem almost synchronised in their open display of change of heart.
The old guard of the Congress insists, like Ashok Gehlot recently did in an interview, that the party’s younger leaders lack patience. Gehlot argued that he waited for 14 years to become the chief minister after taking charge of the Congress’ Rajasthan unit in 1984, and Sachin Pilot should have shown the same patience because that’s the way politics works.
But is that the way politics works? And is the BJP justified in accusing the Congress of sidelining young politicians? Let’s see.
In politics, a Scindia at 49, Pilot at 42 and Rahul Gandhi at 50 are considered young. Keeping this in mind, let’s see how the BJP fares in treating its younger politicians aged under 55.
The BJP chose then 45-year-old Yogi Adityanath, the Mahant of Gorakhnath Math, as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, even though its state president Keshav Prasad Maurya and Dinesh Sharma were the reason for the party’s thumping victory in the 2017 assembly election. But unlike Sachin Pilot, who never really settled in the role of deputy CM, always waiting for the Congress to give him the coveted chair held by Ashok Gehlot, Maurya and Sharma never complained being deputies of CM Adityanath. Perhaps, the hold of Amit Shah over party organisation keeps the ranks of BJP in check.
But picking Adityanath was a well-thought-out strategy whereas Pilot’s appointment was a compulsion for the Congress. Not only is Adityanath a popular figure and enjoys a significant hold over a section of youth who are members of his Hindu Yuva Vahini, but he also keeps the BJP’s Hindutva rhetoric intact.
But Adityanath was also a gamble that Narendra Modi-Amit Shah played at the behest of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) considering he had revolted against the BJP on several occasions. Yet, Modi-Shah didn’t let go of him and further cemented his position in the BJP. Some say he could be the successor to Modi in 2024.
In Assam, the story of Himanta Biswa Sarma is one that perfectly encapsulates the chasm in BJP and Congress’ worldview regarding young leaders. Sarma, a former Congress leader, had once prophetically told Sonia Gandhi, “You have to effect a generation change in the Congress if you want to win the next election in Assam,” according to journalist Rajdeep Sardesai’s book 2019: How Modi Won India. Sarma’s advice, in the wake of the Congress’ drubbing in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, didn’t effect any change. While the Congress chose to stick with 80-year-old Tarun Gogoi, BJP, once it got Sarma on board, gave him full reins of the party in the state. He delivered by helping bring the BJP to power for the first time in Assam in 2016, and was in turn given charge of several major portfolios — from finance, health, PWD to education.
If only the Congress could employ the same logic with its young leaders — not because the BJP does it, but because it is logical to do so.
RSS nurtures young BJP leaders
But Adityanath and Sarma aren’t exceptions. The BJP has actively promoted its young leaders by handing them important leadership roles, and is now grooming a third generation of leaders. As usual, the RSS is playing a critical role. Under the established system of cooperation, the RSS zeroes in on young leaders and then mentors them for future roles in the BJP, like it did with Manohar Parrikar. Of late, those finding special favours in the BJP include Anurag Thakur, a dynast, who is used in elections and to push the party’s Hindutva rhetoric; and Tejasvi Surya, another RSS protégé, is seemingly the face of BJP’s young leadership in the south, becoming the party’s youngest MP after the 2019 election.
Most BJP leaders with an RSS background hold important posts in the party today — Ram Madhav is handling the BJP’s affairs in Kashmir and P. Muralidhar Rao, who was central to the BJP forming its government in Karnataka under B.S. Yediyurappa, is the party’s national general secretary. Saroj Pandey from Chhattisgarh and Kailash Vijayvargiya from Madhya Pradesh hold sway in their respective states. Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan being projected as the party’s CM candidate ahead of the 2018 Odisha assembly election gave a glimpse of what the party likely has in store for him.
In Jharkhand, the BJP has promoted Arjun Munda, currently the Minister of Tribal Affairs. And then there is Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra and Smriti Irani in Uttar Pradesh, who had once announced a fast-unto-death demanding then-Gujarat chief minister Modi’s resignation over the 2002 riots. Yet, all that was forgotten and she was brought into the corridors of power after Modi became PM in 2014. Eventually, she was pitched against Rahul Gandhi in Amethi in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, which she won. Would the Congress leadership ever promote someone with a history of such open opposition so easily? Evidently not.
Congress’ politics of the 1970s
The Congress has stripped Sachin Pilot of all his positions for simply saying that he would walk out of the party if he is not made CM. Tapes are being leaked and mud-slinging is out in the open. The Gehlot camp and entire Congress IT cell is working overtime to make Pilot look like a ‘vulture’ who never had his ideology in place.
But the Congress needs to look beyond the 1970s’ playbook of Indian politics. We have come a long way and the game has changed. Wins and losses are personal in the era of Modi and Shah. The BJP’s lust for power, to win by hook or crook, is dangerous but also inspiring. Which is why the BJP’s harshest critics can’t help but criticise the Congress for making a fool of itself with the ongoing crisis in Rajasthan.
With Pilot gone, the talent deficit in the Congress will only deepen. Many think that culling out flimsy ideological leaders is the best thing that can happen to the Congress. But only time will tell that charisma cannot be inculcated, some people are just born with it. The Congress would eventually see this when it realises it lacks a new generation of leaders with whom the people of India cannot connect.
The author is a political observer and writer. Views are personal.