Bhopal: Not that long ago, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot were comrades-in-arms as young leaders of the Congress party. But in the upcoming by-elections to 28 Madhya Pradesh assembly seats, they are set to square off on the campaign trail.
Although the bypolls have not been announced yet, the Congress has sounded out Pilot that he will have to campaign in the Gwalior-Chambal belt, the area of Scindia’s influence, where 16 of the 28 seats up for grabs are situated.
Congress sources told ThePrint that there are at least six to seven seats with a substantial Gurjar population where Pilot, who hails from the community, could swing votes. They said Pilot has already given his consent to campaign in the bypolls as and when they are announced.
“He is among the star campaigners of the party and has areas of influence. He has campaigned in the past, like his father Rajesh Pilot,” said MP Congress spokesman Bhupendra Gupta.
Another Congress leader who wished to remain anonymous claimed that former CM Kamal Nath played a role in staving off the political crisis in Rajasthan, and saving Pilot from getting the axe. The leader suggested that given Nath’s seniority, Pilot will have no option but to campaign irrespective of whether he is willing.
Pilot replied to queries from ThePrint after the publication of this report.
“I will go wherever the party asks me to go. In the last 20 years, I have gone to even Puducherry and Tripura. I have campaigned in parts of MP in the last few elections. Campaigning is party work and you have to do it,” said Pilot.
Asked if he would be comfortable campaigning against his friend, Pilot said “friendship is personal”.
“Is he contesting?” Pilot asked. “His men are BJP candidates and the Congress has to defeat them.”
Similar rebellions, different outcomes
Scindia and Pilot have taken similar routes to political success, as scions of the legacy of their fathers, Madhavrao Scindia and Rajesh Pilot. Like their dads, Scindia and Pilot junior have been ministers in the central government, and were seen as the next generation of Congress leadership alongside Rahul Gandhi.
When Scindia rebelled against the Congress and joined the BJP with his supporters who were MLAs in March, toppling the Kamal Nath-led Congress government in the process, Pilot was one of the few voices to strike a conciliatory note.
“I am hopeful that the current crisis in MP ends soon and that leaders are able to resolve differences. The state needs a stable government in order to fulfil the promises made to the electorate,” Pilot tweeted on 11 March.
I am hopeful that the current crisis in MP ends soon and that leaders are able to resolve differences. The state needs a stable government in order to fulfill the promises make to the electrolate.
— Sachin Pilot (@SachinPilot) March 9, 2020
The next day, he had expressed disappointment with Scindia’s jump to the BJP: “Unfortunate to see Jyotiraditya Scindia part ways with the Congress. I wish things could have been resolved collaboratively within the party.”
— Sachin Pilot (@SachinPilot) March 11, 2020
Four months later, when Pilot himself was rebelling against CM Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan, Scindia had tweeted sympathetically.
“Sad to see my erstwhile colleague Sachin Pilot too being sidelined and persecuted by Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot. Shows that talent and capability find little credence in the Congress,” he wrote.
— Jyotiraditya M. Scindia (@JM_Scindia) July 12, 2020
Pilot’s rebellion fizzled out, and he was stripped of his roles as deputy CM and state Congress president. But he did make his peace with the Congress and Gehlot, and promised to stand by the party while it assured him it would work on his suggestions and criticisms.
Ever since Scindia’s rebellion, the Congress has stepped up attacks on him. Party leaders repeatedly call him ‘traitor’ to accuse him of sacrificing the party for personal gains.
In a recent speech, Scindia hit back, calling Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh “gaddaar” (traitor) for having failed to keep the promises made in the party’s manifesto ahead of the 2018 assembly elections.
‘It will backfire on Congress’
BJP spokesman Deepak Vijayvargiya said the introduction of Pilot in the campaign will backfire on the Congress because recent political developments in Rajasthan have given a message that the party discriminates between its leaders, and that Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi don’t spare time for all.
A BJP leader who wished to remain anonymous added: “He (Pilot) is a big Gurjar leader. In a way, the Congress strategy won’t work because the Gurjar community knows injustice has been done to him. He will campaign because the party has asked him but his words won’t have the same impact.”
(This report has been updated to include Sachin Pilot’s response)