Former Rajasthan deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot’s Kisan Mahapanchayat in Kotkhavda village in Jaipur district on Friday was ostensibly to oppose the central farm laws but the power tussle in the Congress was the backdrop for the show of strength.
The meeting once again indicated that the rift between Pilot and chief minister Ashok Gehlot still seems to be simmering. After the rebellion by Pilot against the state leadership last year that almost brought down the government, the Congress high command has unsuccessfully tried to broker peace between the two leaders.
Pilot however denied any division in the party. He said the kisan mahapanchayats are being held as part of the Congress party’s farmer outreach.
“The central government has turned a blind eye to farmers. The Congress party is standing with the farmers in their fight against the centre. We are committed to the cause of farmers. Our leader Rahul Gandhi came to Rajasthan to support farmers in their fight and Priyanka Gandhi is leading the fight in UP,” he said.
Recently during Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Rajasthan, attempts were made to cut Pilot to size. At the Rupangarh meeting which Gandhi addressed, Pilot was asked to get off the stage.
Stung by the insult, Pilot’s supporters took it upon themselves to make the Kotkhavda mahapanchayat a success. And going by the mammoth crowd, they seem to have succeeded in a show of strength to the party leadership.
His detractors say Pilot is only a Gurjar leader. He has held rallies only in eastern Rajasthan which is dominated by Gurjars, the community to which Pilot belongs, as well as Meenas who have rallied behind Pilot.
Political analysts say Pilot is hoping to use the farmer rallies to his advantage and show his detractors that he has a strong political base in the state.
Pilot has already held kisan mahapanchayats in Dausa and Bharatpur districts which also saw large turnouts. He now plans to hold similar rallies in other parts of the state which will give an idea about the support he has on the ground.
The mahapanchayat brought together Pilot’s supporters on the dais. The 15 MLAs who attended the meeting gave the message that they are firmly with Pilot and see him as the future leader in the state. Three of his supporters were unable to attend the meet.
Vishvendra Singh made a reference to the angst among Pilot supporters.
While addressing the rally, he took a dig at CM Gehlot. “Congress won 99 seats (in the assembly election) and then the seats increased to 101. The hard work was done by someone.....” Singh left the sentence unfinished but the crowd burst into loud applause.
Singh was referring to Pilot who was the state Congress president and under his leadership the Congress went from 21 seats to 100 seats in the 2018 assembly elections but the post of chief minister went to Gehlot.
Apart from the 15 Pilot loyalists, the presence of two other MLAs hinted at changing equations in the party.
Prashant Bairwa, MLA from Newai, who had left the Pilot camp during the political crisis last year, was present on the dais. The crowd hooted as Bairwa came onto the stage but leaders signalled the crowd to quiet down and Bairwa shared the dais with other leaders.
“Pilot had called me to attend the rally and since it is a party platform and the Congress is supporting farmers in their fight against the centre, I went. My constituency has a large number of Gurjars who were also pressurising me to attend the meeting,” said Bairwa.
Also present was Virendra Singh, the son of former state Congress chief Narayan Singh. While Virendra Singh has been a Pilot supporter he has not openly come out in support. His presence at the meeting could lead to new equations for the Congress in Sikar from where he belongs.
Pilot had invited chief minister Ashok Gehlot, state Congress chief Govind Singh Dotasara and cabinet ministers for the meeting but all of them kept away. Congress leaders said the CM could not attend the meet due to a prior programme.