Sidelining of Sachin Pilot in crucial decisions behind the turmoil?
The simmering tension between Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot reached a tipping point when Pilot was summoned by the police on July 10 in connection with an investigation into a suspected plot to destabilize the state government, HT has learnt.
It underlined, according to a senior Congress leader, the deep distrust Gehlot had of his deputy and was a bid to marginalise Pilot in the party and the government that was formed December 2018.
Although a similar notice was sent to Gehlot, asking him to record a statement, a Pilot loyalist said the deputy CM thought the probe was targeting him. Gehlot, after all, has retained the home portfolio and the police report to the home minister.
There have been several bids to undercut Pilot in the past two years. The Congress central leadership chose to ignore the warning signals until it , finally, formed a coordination committee for Rajasthan in January but that panel, so far, has held just one meeting.
“Pilot was not very keen to assume an organizational post in Delhi. So, the party should have secured his position in Rajasthan. But that overt backing was missing for a long time,” said a central leader of the Congress.
The Congress’s inability to nip such problems in the bud was articulated by senior party leader Kapil Sibal. Sibal tweeted, “Worried for our party..Will we wake up only after the horses have bolted from our stables ?”
Just four months ago, the Congress lost its government in Madhya Pradesh in a similar script played out when Jyotiraditya Scindia left the party which similarly ignored both him and the warning signals in the state. On Sunday, Scindia, now a Rajya Sabha MP of the BJP tweeted: “Sad to see my erstwhile colleague @SachinPilot too, being sidelined and persecuted by Rajasthan CM. @ashokgehlot51. Shows that talent and capability find little credence in the @INCIndia.”
To be sure, the start of the new Congress government in Rajasthan was not exactly a smooth affair. Pilot, who left his family in Delhi to sweat it out, led the Congress campaign as the president of the party in the state to victory, but Gehlot became chief minister primarily due to caste equations and perhaps because the Congress wanted someone from the old guard.
Party insiders added that for the past few months, the Gehlot camp has been demanding a change of guard in the Rajasthan Congress in a bid to remove Pilot from the state party president’s post. They started lobbying with Congress functionaries in Delhi that a new state chief is required (Pilot has been holding the position for six years) before panchayat elections in the state.
Another party leader, close to Pilot added, while he had four ministries under him as the deputy CM, Gehlot appointed bureaucrats in some of these ministries.
Even as then Congress president Rahul Gandhi met the two leaders over several rounds to hammer out a solution, the uneasy equation between the Congress’s old generation and the new generation came to the fore.
Last year, the chief minister’s son Vaibhav Gehlot lost the Lok Sabha election, and the senior Gehlot lost no time in blaming Pilot for the defeat. He publicly stated that “Pilot should take responsibility” even as many party leaders questioned the chief minister’s inability to ensure a victory for his son.
Earlier this year, Pilot expressed concern about the deteriorating law and order situation in some areas of the state—seen as a comment on Gehlot who holds the home portfolio.
A few months ago, the Rajya Sabha elections too, saw tension rising between the two. Gehlot fielded Neeraj Dangi, a secretary of the Congress party, for the coveted Rajya Sabha seat. Pilot wanted a bigger, well-known name but Gehlot stuck to his choice. And then, ahead of the polls, Gehlot alleged that Congress MLAs were being lured, indicating the party might lose a seat. The results proved to be otherwise and the Congress secured seats for both its candidates.
Pilot, who was credited for the victory, said: “Any kind of doubts and suspicions spread around earlier were baseless.”
A party insider pointed out that Pilot’s people were not being rewarded. Many posts for political appointment are lying vacant and Gehlot is in no hurry to accommodate Pilot loyalists in these posts.
Last month, at a function at party headquarters to observe Sanjay Gandhi’s death anniversary, Pilot announced that as the party president in Rajasthan, he owes it to the Congress grassroots workers who had worked very hard for Congress and needed to be rewarded.