It’s been a long time coming, say experts observing Rajasthan’s political situation for the past few years. Sachin Pilot rebelled against the Ashok Gehlot-led leadership in Rajasthan, refused to return to the party fold, and was subsequently sacked from his position as deputy chief minister, along with two of his aides who lost their jobs as MLAs in the party.
It’s unclear whether they will be expelled from the Congress, but rumours of Pilot launching his own party, Pragatisheel Congress, did the rounds on Monday, and in all likelihood, following the aftermath of him not attending the meeting of Congress legislatures, he may end up forming his own party, even though there will be a lot of paperwork required to start it. It will also be interesting to see who joins the new party, if there is one.
Congressman Sanjay Jha, who has been open about his support for Pilot, is a likely candidate. But what were the sequence of events that led to the fallout between Gehlot and Pilot. One factor is definitely ‘Old Guard versus New Guard.’ We saw what happened when Jyotiraditya Scindia quit the Congress to join the BJP after openly revolting against the Kamal Nath government.
While Pilot has made it clear that he will not join the BJP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah are carefully analysing the situation in New Delhi.
The tension between Pilot and Gehlot began in October 2018 when the Congress returned to power. According to this India Today report, trouble began when Congress named Gehlot as Rajasthan’s Chief Minister, although people in the media thought Pilot was the top choice.
However, this Twitter thread by veteran journalist Radhika Bordia highlights how while Pilot, with his connections with the high-ups in the media, made it appear that he was the top choice, the people’s mandate remained with Gehlot.
Rahul Gandhi, who is close to Pilot, had tried pushing for his chief ministerial position, but this was overthrown, the India Today report added, after Gehlot managed to get the support of 13 independents and an RJD MLA. Until this point, the Congress was unable to form a majority during the 2018 Rajasthan Assembly Elections. The belief was that Gehlot would ensure that Rajasthan would do well during the 2019 General Elections. However, at the time, Congress lost 25 out of 25 seats.
While people have called Pilot a rebel Congress leader, a report in The Print on Tuesday has revealed that some senior Congress leaders in the know have revealed that Gehlot ‘deliberately’ triggered this crisis to ‘get rid of Pilot’.
During his role as Deputy Chief Minister, Pilot has been critical of his party when criticism is required. His comments on the infant mortality rates in a Kota hospital hit headlines, with people taking to social media to praise him wishing that more leaders took accountability like he did.
Furthermore, Gehlot unlike Kamal Nath had prepared himself in case of a coup within the party. This News 18 report said that after the embarrassment in the 2019 General Elections, unlike former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath, Gehlot realised that his leadership would be questioned from within the party and outside it. He wasn’t wrong. When Jyotiraditya Scindia quit the Congress and moved to the BJP, Gehlot was prepared. He had even sent his MLAs to a resort during the Rajya Sabha polls to ensure that there was no horse trading, like there was in Madhya Pradesh.
In the age-old game of ‘Rajneeti’, Gehlot took a risk that may see the end of the Congress party in the state. However, the Rajasthan Chief Minister is confident that he has the numbers.
With this blow to Pilot, one thing is for certain. If his new party – whenever it is formed – garners a Congress mass exodus, then the dynamics ahead of the 2023 elections will be an interesting one.