Sachin Pilot been denied the respect and stature that he deserved in the Gehlot government
A rebel leader makes peace with his party under two situations. One, from a position of strength. And two, from a position of weakness. Sachin Pilot’s patch-up falls in the second category. Let’s look back to where he stood when he announced the revolt nearly a month ago, and where he stands today.
Then, he had 18 MLAs of the Rajasthan Assembly in his camp, overtly opposed to Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s leadership. There were said to be another 10 legislators who covertly backed him. They were willing to come out in the open if the conditions turned favourable. Taken together, these MLAs had a real potential to reduce the government to a minority.
The Speaker had issued notices of disqualification to the rebel MLAs loyal to Pilot, and to Pilot himself. A legal battle too had ensued in the process.
Then, Pilot was the Deputy Chief Minister and also the State Congress unit president. Through these positions, he wielded considerable influence and bargaining power. He was seen as the architect of his party’s victory in the 2018 Assembly elections, and also seen as having been denied the respect and stature that he deserved in the Gehlot government.
Then, he commanded respect for the principled stand he had taken, with even a section of his own party leaders speaking out in his favour — some of them unambiguously lashed out at the party’s central leadership for its failure to ensure that Pilot was given his due.
Then, he was seen as a victim of revenge politics initiated by Gehlot, whose police had slapped cases of various natures against him and his supporters. Besides, the Speaker had issued notices of disqualification to the rebel MLAs loyal to Pilot, and to Pilot himself. A legal battle too had ensued in the process.
Then, Pilot had garnered public sympathy after Gehlot let out a flurry of personalized attacks against him, calling him “worthless” and “useless”, and contemptuously saying that “good looks and good English-speaking skills did not make one a leader of substance.”
Pilot played his cards poorly. He remained on the defensive while Gehlot unleashed aggression. He continued to express his loyalty towards the party’s central leadership even when the latter toed Gehlot’s line, and this confused his supporters.
Let’s come to the present. Pilot failed to take the revolt to its logical conclusion. Gehlot had dug in his heels and ensured that the majority of the MLAs remained with him. Pilot was left holding a rebellion that had been nipped in the bud.
Far from being accommodative, Gehlot gloated about the fact that not one MLA from his group crossed over. He also showed no remorse for his personal attacks on Pilot. He was stronger than he was a month ago and was in no mood to give up the advantage. He made it clear that, if Pilot wanted to make peace, it would be on his (Gehlot’s) terms.
And that is what has happened. Realizing that his revolt was going nowhere, Pilot capitulated. He met senior party leaders including Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra and, figuratively, signed the peace accord. In return, he has received only the assurance that a three-member panel would be set up to address his grievances.
Even if the Deputy Chief Minister’s post is restored to him — which is unlikely — he will continue to be sidelined. In fact, even more so than before, given that Gehlot has tasted blood. Pilot’s stature in the party has been compromised to such an extent that it will be difficult for him to assert his authority. He will be treated as a suspect through and through.
Congress can celebrate for now since the crisis has blown over. But the peace is fragile. Pilot has made it clear in interviews he has given to the media over the last few days that he would continue to speak out on issues that concern the people of the State — decoded, it means that he will not hesitate to take on the Gehlot regime as before. It would be foolish to presume that all is well between the two leaders. There is too much bitterness and rancor to be wished away.
In retrospect, Pilot played his cards poorly. He remained on the defensive while Gehlot unleashed aggression. He continued to express his loyalty towards the party’s central leadership even when the latter toed Gehlot’s line, and this confused his supporters. If the only issue was that Pilot wanted the high command to listen to him, he could have met them a month ago and resolved the matter. The three-member panel could have been formed then too.
The fact is: Had Pilot got the numbers, he would have split from the Congress and, with some help from the BJP, toppled the Gehlot government. At some point, he developed cold feet.
The big challenge before the party’s senior leadership now is to contain Pilot from meddling in Rajasthan’s affairs. Perhaps he could be given a pan-India responsibility in the party’s central hierarchy. Gehlot is determined to complete his term, and any arrangement that keeps Pilot away will suit him.
The question is: What does Pilot want? It does not look likely that he will walk away and allow Gehlot a free run in the State. Will he seed another rebellion, this more forceful and better planned? Only time will tell.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.