File image from 2019 showing Congress leader Sachin Pilot (R) with the then Congress President Rahul Gandhi and Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot during a party function in Jaipur.
File image from 2019 showing Congress leader Sachin Pilot (R) with the then Congress President Rahul Gandhi and Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot during a party function in Jaipur.
Photo: ANI

Editor's Note: The following copy has been republished amid reports that Sachin Pilot has ended his impasse and me the Gandhis. It was originally published on July 16, 2020.

Speculation is rife about Sachin Pilot’s next move. Till Tuesday, the most plausible path being cited for the former deputy chief minister was to walk the Jyotiraditya Scindia way and join the BJP.

Grapevine suggested that Pilot made his move because he felt stifled and humiliated and was sore about the fact that he wasn't made chief minister of the state. The same was said about Scindia when he quit the Congress to join the BJP in March this year.

However, if you take a closer look, the situation is actually not the same

While Scindia made a rather silent transition out of Congress, Pilot’s plans to move to the saffron fold have been the topic of discussion for several months now. This has given sections within the BJP ample opportunity for captiousness and the Ashok Gehlot-led government plenty of time for disaster management.

There are several reasons why Sachin Pilot could not walk the path that Scindia did so effortlessly:

Here are the top seven reasons:

No clear majority

Pilot’s biggest grouse is that he has not been made chief minister. He was made PCC chief in 2014 soon after he lost the Parliamentary election from Ajmer. Rajasthan has a history of alternation between BJP and Congress to form a government and so it would be rather unfair for Pilot to claim entire credit for forming a government.

Due credit needs to be given to political traditions and the rampant factionalism in BJP that was enough to nullify the Modi wave that swept over other states.

Also, the Congress could not manage a clear majority. Even as BJP fell from 160 to 72 seats and Congress rose from 21 to 99, the 101-mark of majority had not been achieved. In fact, the present tally of 107 is after independents and 6 BSP MLAs joined the party, reportedly after Gehlot spoke to them.

Scindia was neither an MLA nor an MP

Jyotiraditya Scindia did not hold a constitutional post and did not have a position in the MP government that held him accountable. Therefore, he had a justifiable reason to quit the Congress when he was denied a Rajya Sabha ticket.

On the other hand, Pilot has over last year and a half gained the perception of being a man who is sore at not being made chief minister and holds a grudge against Ashok Gehlot. The sense of affront and commitment Scindia could invoke among his supporters was not there in the case of Pilot.

Thus, Pilot's statements about being humiliated were taken with a pinch of salt even within the Congress.

Pilot is relatively new to grassroots-level politics

Pilot has been part of grassroots politics of Rajasthan for just six years since he was made PCC chief in 2014. Prior to that, Rajasthan for him was the means to reach Parliament and his forays were limited to just Dausa and later Ajmer from where he contested.

Many within the Congress say that Pilot made the mistake of confusing the crowds that he met as he travelled across the state to be his supporters, whereas they were there for the state president.

On the other hand the Maharaj of Madhya Pradesh has a personal clout that transcends caste. The organisation he has built is more loyal to him than the party. The loyalty goes back to decades and even across generations.

Those who quit Congress in support of Scindia were his personal loyalists and dependent on Scindia for political existence. But, out of the 19 MLAs who are with Pilot, it is just a few who have been given tickets by Pilot and owe their political existence to him. Others like Brijendra Ola, Hemaram Choudhary, Dependra Singh, Harish Meena, Bhanwarlal Sharma are senior leaders who are disgruntled at not being made ministers.

Ashok Gehlot was prepared for a coup

It also needs to be considered that the BJP’s forays at forming a government in Karnataka and Maharashtra and the coup in Madhya Pradesh had the entire nation waiting for Rajasthan to happen. Some overenthusiastic Pilot supporters’ posts on social media against their own government alerted the seasoned politicians such as Gehlot. He was prepared to deal with all possibilities and eventualities.

Gurjar protests in the state

The violent Gurjar agitation has rocked Rajasthan for several years. Pilot belongs to the Gurjar community and his undoing led to widespread protest launched by his community after they realised Gehlot would be made Rajasthan Chief Minister.

What further damaged Pilot's position was that his appeals to his community to maintain peace went unheeded. It created a fear psychosis in the minds of the public as well as within the upper echelons within the Congress. Once talks of his joining BJP started doing the rounds, leaders within BJP, too, cited this as a reason to run down his chances.

Pilot was vocal about his displeasure

While Scindia maintained a graceful silence, Pilot lost no opportunity to run down Gehlot and the same government of which he was deputy chief minister. He spoke against the ticket to Gehlot’s son, the infant mortality at a Kota hospital, and the poor law-and-order situation in the state. This created trust deficit and loss of sympathy for him within Congress, and he could not manage as many MLAs as he had presumed.

Pilot is an outsider for the people

Rajasthan is a state where loyalties runs deep. Pilot hails from Uttar Pradesh and inherited his father’s seat. For the common Rajasthani – which includes politicians - this is also an aspect that matters while offering loyalty. This was a hindrance in gaining larger numbers.

Politics is about taking decisions as per situation and more importantly keeping communication channels open. Pilot took off and lost all radio contact with base; in this case with his party, the Congress. He started losing supporters and his party started losing patience with him.

The cookie had actually started to crumble after the Rajya Sabha elections and SOG complaint. Pilot simply could not gain BJP’s confidence to deliver.

He gave Gehlot too much time to do damage control.

What ensued was a battle that pitched a ‘young’ 43-year-old against a man who has almost 43 years of political experience.

In the end there'd be only one outcome.

As an acerbic Ashok Gehlot later noted, there's more to politics than 'speaking good English, giving good bytes and being handsome'.

What is sauce for the goose in posh English media channels in Delhi-NCR, is not sauce for the gander in rustic Rajasthan. Sachin Pilot learned it the hard way.

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