From MP in 2004 to a rebel in 2020: Sachin Pilot’s journey in Congress
Sachin Pilot’s entry into the Congress in 2002, two years after the death of his father Rajesh Pilot in a road accident, was marked by jubilation, and cheered , among others, by his current bête noire chief minister Ashok Gehlot.
Now, 18 years later, the long-standing rivalry between Gehlot, 69, and Pilot, 42, has culminated in a bitter out-in-the-open feud, threatening to destablise the Congress govermment in Rajasthan.
Pilot, was inducted into the Congress in February 2002 by then state chief Girija Vyas with much fanfare during a Kisan rally in Jaipur. Gehlot was also present at the rally.
Two year later in 2004, he contested his first election and emerged victorious from the Dausa Lok Sabha seat in Rajasthan.
In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, Pilot, then 32, contested and won from Ajmer and was appointed union minister of state for communications and information technology.
In the 2012 union cabinet reshuffle, Pilot was elevated as a minister of state with independent charge and given the portfolio of corporate affairs.
Barely few months before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Pilot, then 36, was named as the Rajasthan Congress chief. By then, the party had badly lost the assembly elections in 2013 with Gehlot as the chief minister.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) recorded its highest ever margin in Rajasthan winning 163 seats in that election, the Congress registered its worst ever poll performance with 21 seats.
The grand old party repeated its performance in the 2014 national elections and failed to win any of the 25 Lok Sabha seats from the state. Pilot too lost from Ajmer.
By then, the rivalry between Gehlot and Pilot had begun, with each blaming the other for the poll debacle.
Since Pilot was considered close to Rahul Gandhi, the Gehlot camp viewed his appointment as state chief as an attempt to cut the veteran leader to size.
In 2017, Gehlot was brought to Delhi and made general secretary in-charge of BJP-ruled Gujarat just before the assembly elections.
The appointment was seen as an attempt by the Congress high command to strike a balance of power in Rajasthan, with Gehlot being handed over a key position at the national level; the move also gave Pilot the much-needed political space in the state.
Under Gehlot’s charge, the Congress fought a keenly contested election in Gujarat i.
That period also saw Rahul Gandhi beginning to rely on the veteran leader.
Soon after Rahul Gandhi became the Congress president in December 2017, he appointed Gehlot to the key position of general secretary in charge of organisation, replacing another veteran Janardan Dwivedi.
In the run-up to the 2018 assembly elections and with Pilot at helm, the Congress had won by-elections to few assembly and Lok Sabha seats in Rajasthan, and also performed well in local body elections.
When the Congress won the 2018 assembly elections, Pilot staked claim to the chief minister’s post arguing that he worked hard , reviving the Congress in the state.
Also read: Numbers behind Rajasthan story
But Pilot’s claim was overlooked and the Congress leadership once again opted for Gehlot, who became Rajasthan chief minister for the third time. Pilot, then 40, was named his deputy.
The rivalry had by then turned into a bitter power tussle between the two with Pilot claiming that his authority was being repeatedly undermined by Gehlot. Both once again blamed each other for the debacle in the 2019 Lok Sabha when the Congress failed to open its account from the state.
There were also frequent run-ins between the two.
Pilot has commented critically on Rajasthan’s record in public health and law and order. In turn, Gehlot sidelined Pilot completely.
The Congress’ central leadership was aware of the differences between the two but both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi ignored it.
The flashpoint came late last week when Pilot received a notice from the special operations group (SOG) of the state police to record his statement regarding the alleged attempts to topple the Congress government in the state.
Though the SOG also served similar notices to Gehlot, government’s chief whip Mahesh Joshi and several legislators, Pilot’s loyalists termed it yet another move to “humiliate” their leader and “undermine” his authority. The police report to Gehlot.
Pilot rushed to Delhi soon after receiving the notice along with some of his loyal legislators.
The rebellion was now out in the open. Pilot’s refusal to attend the two Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meetings in Jaipur and to sort out the differences with Gehlot culminated in his sacking as the deputy chief minister and the state Congress president.
Gehlot, who received Pilot in the Congress with warmth and enthusiasm in 2002, oversaw his removal from key positions 18 years later in 2020.