Sachin Pilot is not joining the BJP after all, he has made it clear. He makes it sound like that’s coming out of some commitment to the Congress party. It is obvious, however, that Pilot couldn’t gather the support of enough MLAs to be of any use to the BJP.
When Pilot fled Jaipur, he first claimed he had the support of 30 MLAs, which would have brought the Ashok Gehlot government below the majority mark. However, sitting in a hotel in BJP-ruled Haryana, Pilot probably couldn’t gather the support of any more than the 15 MLAs who had travelled with him. For the BJP to have any play in the game, it needed at least 30 to rebel.
The Pilot rebellion has thus turned out to be a damp squib. It has also shown that all those who were blaming the Congress party for not being able to manage the differences between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot were wrong. In fact, this is one case where the Congress party did well from beginning to end.
A stitch in time
On Tuesday, the Congress sacked Sachin Pilot from the posts of deputy chief minister and Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee president. There was something unusual about this: the party usually waits passively for events to unfold and suffer their consequences.
In Madhya Pradesh, Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh looked on as Jyotiraditya Scindia pulled the rug from under their feet. By contrast, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan acted in time and prevented Sachin Pilot from doing a Scindia.
It is strange that the people who were criticising the Congress party for not being able to save its government in Madhya Pradesh are now criticising the Congress party for trying to save its government in Rajasthan.
The myth of Pilot’s achievement
There’s a myth that Sachin Pilot was the reason why the Congress won Rajasthan in 2018 — and thus deserved to be made chief minister.
It is well known that voters in Rajasthan like to flip between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) every five years. It’s called turning the roti, lest it burns. This idea is so ingrained in the minds of Rajasthan’s voters that the state’s assembly election is too boring to cover.
In 2018, it was the Congress party’s turn anyway. Besides, the BJP was adamant on making its own chief minister, Vasundhara Raje Scindia, lose badly. BJP-RSS cadres were so vehemently opposed to her that they would openly raise slogans against her in rallies and nobody seemed to stop them.
For a victory so inevitable, the Congress should have won a two-thirds majority. But under Sachin Pilot’s leadership, the party won just 99 of 200 seats — the BJP won 73. Instead of taking this as a sign of failure, Sachin Pilot claimed credit for the victory and threatened rebellion if he wasn’t made chief minister. His supporters even took to vandalism.
Why Gehlot deserved to be CM
The 2018 assembly election was a contest between Gehlot-sponsored candidates and Pilot-sponsored candidates, whether or not they were contesting from a Congress ticket. As more Gehlot-allied MLAs won, Sachin Pilot automatically lost the claim to the chief minister’s chair, morally and politically. The idea that Sachin Pilot was key to why Congress won Rajasthan is a myth created by the liberal English media in Delhi, which is shamefully biased in favour of Pilot.
This was a poor reflection on Pilot as a politician. Pilot’s case is that he deserved to be CM because he worked hard in the state for five years, but Gehlot has been working for nearly 50 years. Despite having a free run in Rajasthan as Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief for five years, with Gehlot busy in national politics, Pilot couldn’t displace him as the numero uno Congress leader in public perception in the state.
Pilot accepted the compromise formula, or did he?
Keeping this situation in mind, the Congress high command made sure Sachin Pilot was made deputy chief minister with not one or two, but five key portfolios. Against the principle of one leader-one post, Pilot was also allowed to retain the powerful political post of PCC chief. Besides, some of the MLAs loyal to him were also made ministers.
This was in stark contrast to Madhya Pradesh, where Jyotiraditya Scindia, having rejected the deputy CM’s post, found himself completely sidelined by the Kamal Nath-Digvijaya Singh duo. These two seniors wouldn’t even let him have a Rajya Sabha seat. Pilot, by contrast, got more than what he deserved.
Instead of being grateful and content, he positioned himself against the chief minister from day one.
Ever since he moved to Rajasthan after 2014, Pilot split the party into two. Every worker had to choose whether they were in the Pilot camp or the Gehlot camp. As deputy CM, he continued to act as the challenger rather than a member of the government. Ashok Gehlot was forced to answer in the same language. Pilot would have been wise to bury the hatchet with Gehlot, but chose not to do so, hoping to destabilise the government and become chief minister by hook or crook.
After the fall of the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh, Sachin Pilot clearly took some inspiration from Jyotiraditya Scindia.
Who made the first move?
There’s a narrative that Ashok Gehlot ‘laid a trap’ for Sachin Pilot, ‘baiting’ him to a situation where he had no option but to exit. The story begins with the Rajya Sabha elections last month. As is well known, the BJP tries to move in on MLAs to win as many Rajya Sabha seats as possible. Both Congress and BJP put their MLAs in resorts before the Rajya Sabha elections. Ashok Gehlot alleged the same poaching was taking place in Rajasthan. Sachin Pilot met the Congress high command in Delhi, after which the rebellion was postponed.
Meanwhile, the Rajasthan police intercepted phone calls between individuals allegedly associated with the BJP, where horse-trading was allegedly being discussed. Two individuals were arrested. Since the phone calls allegedly suggested that Sachin Pilot was negotiating with the BJP, he was summoned by the Rajasthan Police’s Special Operations Group or SOG. This summon notice is being portrayed as undue aggression by Ashok Gehlot that left Sachin Pilot with no choice but to leave.
This narrative presenting Ashok Gehlot as the aggressor presumes that Sachin Pilot was innocent and did not attempt toppling his own government. To believe this is a bit naive since Pilot’s response was to immediately make public his efforts to topple the government, refuse to attend Congress meetings despite a whip, and move to BJP-ruled Haryana MLAs loyal to him.
Pilot is making the SOG notice look like an affront but it doesn’t accuse him of anything, only seeks his co-operation in an investigation. If he has nothing to hide, why run away?
It was Pilot who made the first move, Gehlot has merely defended his fort. The police investigation into horse-trading charges, armed with the evidence of intercepted phone calls, was Ashok Gehlot’s attempts to save his own government.
A general who overestimates the size of his army
Everyone’s favourite whipping boy, the Congress party, has got a lot of flak for not being able to manage the differences between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot. However, it is by now clear that the Congress actually managed the tussle well, giving Sachin Pilot a long rope.
Ashok Gehlot has exposed how Pilot had been holding the Congress party to ransom without even having the bargaining power to do so. Unlike his friends in the Delhi media who bought his tall claims, the Congress party knew his strength or the lack of it — a mere 15 MLAs.
According to Sachin Pilot’s supporters in Delhi, a man who can’t get the support of more than 15 MLAs somehow deserves to be Rajasthan chief minister, Congress PCC chief, Congress national president, Congress’ prime ministerial face and so on.
The same people who accuse Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi of being entitled, arrogant dynasts are now forced to accept that Sachin Pilot is the same: an entitled, arrogant dynast who thinks the Rajasthan CM’s chair is his birthright.
Sachin Pilot has no casus belli to rebel — he doesn’t have the numbers, Ashok Gehlot is still popular, the election isn’t nigh, and the coronavirus pandemic is the wrong time to be planning to topple one’s own government. In these circumstances, the Congress has, for once, done a good job in trying to save its government from an expansionist BJP.
The author is contributing editor, ThePrint. Views are personal.