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Sachin Pilot's 2023 Report Card: How Much Can He Still Bargain With Congress?

Half of Pilot's loyalists have lost the election. The Congress has also lost heavily in Gujjar belts. What next?

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"I have again been blessed by the voters of the area and have registered a big victory for the Congress in Tonk. With the cooperation of all of you, the pace of development will continue in Tonk," posted Congress leader Sachin Pilot on social media platform X, soon after he won the constituency on Sunday, 3 December with a massive margin of over 29,000 votes against his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) opponent Ajit Mehta.

In 2018, Pilot scripted history when he not only became the first non-Muslim to be fielded from Tonk by the Congress, but also won with a historic mandate of over 54,000 votes.

Back then, the constituency thought it was voting for a probable chief minister with the Congress touted to sweep the state. Pilot rode high on several factors — the success of the party in the elections under his leadership as the state president, the flipping of Gujjar votes with his possibility of becoming the CM, and his resounding victory in Tonk.

Five years down the line, however, the outcome of the Assembly elections for the former deputy chief minister of the state is not as sweet. That begs a few questions:

  • What are Pilot's prospects in the Congress Party now?

  • Will he get a bigger role in state politics or will his focus be shifted to national roles?

  • Where does his bargaining power stand in the party compared to 2018?

Before we get to some of these answers, a look at four key aspects of Pilot's 2023 report card compared to 2018:

Sachin Pilot's 2023 Report Card: How Much Can He Still Bargain With Congress?

  1. 1. Performance of Pilot Loyalists Who Backed His Rebellion

    The much talked-about 'Sachin Pilot' factor and his influence on the Gujjar community which the Congress heavily benefitted from in 2018 seems to have weakened, the results show.

    Out of the 15 confirmed names who were present with Pilot at the Manesar resort during his rebellion against Gehlot in 2020, most of them were awarded tickets this time.

    Half of Pilot's loyalists have lost the election. The Congress has also lost heavily in Gujjar belts. What next?

    However, at least eight of the 15 have lost the elections from their respective seats.

    Expand
  2. 2. The Gujjar Factor

    In 2018, the Gujjars, the BJP's traditional votebank, voted heavily for the Congress with Pilot touted to be the chief minister ahead of the elections.

    In the 24 Assembly seats of Gujjar-dominated districts of eastern Rajasthan — Bharatpur, Dausa, Dholpur, Karauli, and Sawai Madhopur — the BJP had managed to win just one with the Congress sweeping the rest.

    This year, the BJP has managed to snatch 13 of these 24 seats from the Congress with the latter winning just eight. The other three were bagged by independent candidates or regional parties.
    Half of Pilot's loyalists have lost the election. The Congress has also lost heavily in Gujjar belts. What next?

    Those who lost these seats also include three cabinet ministers: Vishvendra Singh, Ramesh Meena, and Bhajan Lal Jatav — all three staunch Pilot loyalists.

    Experts say that sidelining Pilot cost the Congress across the state, specifically in eastern Rajasthan. With many expecting the Congress to lose this time, surveys say that the traditional BJP Gujjar vote that had shifted in Pilot's favour in 2018 may have returned to the saffron party.

    Expand
  3. 3. Congress' Performance in Pilot's Turf of Tonk-Sawai Madhopur

    If one looks at the Sawai Madhopur Lok Sabha constituency, which is Pilot's turf and has eight Assembly seats, the Congress had managed to win seven out of the eight seats in 2018 (six Congress leaders and one Congress-backed independent) with the BJP winning just one.

    On Sunday, the tally was equalised to four seats each.
    Half of Pilot's loyalists have lost the election. The Congress has also lost heavily in Gujjar belts. What next?

    In the Sawai Madhopur seat, where the BJP fielded heavyweight Rajya Sabha MP Kirodi Lal Meena, sitting Congress MLA Danish Abrar not only faced anti-incumbency but also the wrath of Gujjar voters for 'betraying' Pilot during the 2020 rebellion. A former Pilot loyalist, Abrar had switched to Gehlot's side at the peak of the rebellion.

    The outcome in the region, however, also indicates a loss of Pilot's 'charm' among voters to an extent.

    Expand
  4. 4. Loss of 25,000 Votes: Pilot's Weakened Hold on Tonk

    Pilot's victory in 2018 was sealed by over 63 percent of the constituency's votes. The tally has now reduced to about 43 percent votes.

    Half of Pilot's loyalists have lost the election. The Congress has also lost heavily in Gujjar belts. What next?

    A look at a few key reasons behind the drop:

    • Many voters felt that Pilot mostly remained embroiled in state-level politics given the tiff with Gehlot and left the constituency to his 'middlemen.'

    • Several felt that a lot more could have been done in terms of development for the constituency with a name as big as Pilot being the MLA.

    • Despite having lots of work to his credit, locals have struggled for better roads, sewage, and the long-standing unfulfilled wish of the region's voters — railway connectivity.

    • A constituency with over 65,000 Muslim voters, many from the community, including those associated with the party, felt sidelined by Pilot. His stand on the Tablighi Jamaat controversy in 2020, and the alleged silence following the Junaid-Nasir lynching case and the Iqbal murder case did not go down well with the community.

    Expand
  5. 5. So, How Much Can Pilot Ask For?

    Pilot had tons of factors not working in his favour this time, but there are significant factors that he can still negotiate on the basis of for a 'bigger' role in Rajasthan

    A look at the factors that go against him:

    • Pilot's victory in his own constituency is undoubtedly huge. The victory margin of over 29,000 votes against BJP's Ajit Mehta is quite significant. However, the loss of 25,000 votes compared to 2018 will be difficult to overlook.

    • Even the loss of more than half of his staunch loyalists who backed his rebellion significantly weakens his bargaining power.

    • Gehlot is being seen as the chief minister who has delivered Congress' least embarrassing defeat in the past six elections with the state having flip-flopped between the two parties for the past three decades.

    • Though Pilot enjoys significant clout, Gehlot is a mass leader for the state and enjoys undisputed loyalty from the MLAs that support him, something that has always worked against Pilot. Case in point being the mass resignations offered by over 90 MLAs when Gehlot was touted to be the national Congress chief.

    However, there are several factors that will work for him:

    • Pilot could very well use his sidelining by Gehlot in state politics as the key reason behind the swinging of Gujjar votes back to the BJP, which has cost the Congress at least 20 seats this time.

    • The issues of corruption, paper leak, and alleged Gehlot-Raje bonhomie that Pilot had raised repeatedly were eventually weaponised by the BJP in this election to not just target Gehlot but also Raje.

    • Pilot has a proven track record of leading the state to victory in 2018 when he was the state party chief while the BJP wave across the country was only stronger.

    • Many perceived 2023 as the last opportunity for Gehlot to become the Rajasthan chief minister given his age. If the former CM is now asked by the Congress central leadership to take up a national role ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, it might pave the way for Pilot to be given a bigger role in Rajasthan.

    While Pilot already has a national role in the party with his recent appointment to the Congress Working Committee (CWC), experts believe that it will only be wise for the Congress to either bring him back as the state's general secretary or appoint him as the leader of the Opposition.

    As the party is set to assess its performance on Tuesday in a meeting called by state president Govind Singh Dotasra, Pilot's next steps will be crucial for his political trajectory both in state and national politics.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

Performance of Pilot Loyalists Who Backed His Rebellion

The much talked-about 'Sachin Pilot' factor and his influence on the Gujjar community which the Congress heavily benefitted from in 2018 seems to have weakened, the results show.

Out of the 15 confirmed names who were present with Pilot at the Manesar resort during his rebellion against Gehlot in 2020, most of them were awarded tickets this time.

Half of Pilot's loyalists have lost the election. The Congress has also lost heavily in Gujjar belts. What next?

However, at least eight of the 15 have lost the elections from their respective seats.

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The Gujjar Factor

In 2018, the Gujjars, the BJP's traditional votebank, voted heavily for the Congress with Pilot touted to be the chief minister ahead of the elections.

In the 24 Assembly seats of Gujjar-dominated districts of eastern Rajasthan — Bharatpur, Dausa, Dholpur, Karauli, and Sawai Madhopur — the BJP had managed to win just one with the Congress sweeping the rest.

This year, the BJP has managed to snatch 13 of these 24 seats from the Congress with the latter winning just eight. The other three were bagged by independent candidates or regional parties.
Half of Pilot's loyalists have lost the election. The Congress has also lost heavily in Gujjar belts. What next?

Those who lost these seats also include three cabinet ministers: Vishvendra Singh, Ramesh Meena, and Bhajan Lal Jatav — all three staunch Pilot loyalists.

Experts say that sidelining Pilot cost the Congress across the state, specifically in eastern Rajasthan. With many expecting the Congress to lose this time, surveys say that the traditional BJP Gujjar vote that had shifted in Pilot's favour in 2018 may have returned to the saffron party.

Congress' Performance in Pilot's Turf of Tonk-Sawai Madhopur

If one looks at the Sawai Madhopur Lok Sabha constituency, which is Pilot's turf and has eight Assembly seats, the Congress had managed to win seven out of the eight seats in 2018 (six Congress leaders and one Congress-backed independent) with the BJP winning just one.

On Sunday, the tally was equalised to four seats each.
Half of Pilot's loyalists have lost the election. The Congress has also lost heavily in Gujjar belts. What next?

In the Sawai Madhopur seat, where the BJP fielded heavyweight Rajya Sabha MP Kirodi Lal Meena, sitting Congress MLA Danish Abrar not only faced anti-incumbency but also the wrath of Gujjar voters for 'betraying' Pilot during the 2020 rebellion. A former Pilot loyalist, Abrar had switched to Gehlot's side at the peak of the rebellion.

The outcome in the region, however, also indicates a loss of Pilot's 'charm' among voters to an extent.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

Loss of 25,000 Votes: Pilot's Weakened Hold on Tonk

Pilot's victory in 2018 was sealed by over 63 percent of the constituency's votes. The tally has now reduced to about 43 percent votes.

Half of Pilot's loyalists have lost the election. The Congress has also lost heavily in Gujjar belts. What next?

A look at a few key reasons behind the drop:

  • Many voters felt that Pilot mostly remained embroiled in state-level politics given the tiff with Gehlot and left the constituency to his 'middlemen.'

  • Several felt that a lot more could have been done in terms of development for the constituency with a name as big as Pilot being the MLA.

  • Despite having lots of work to his credit, locals have struggled for better roads, sewage, and the long-standing unfulfilled wish of the region's voters — railway connectivity.

  • A constituency with over 65,000 Muslim voters, many from the community, including those associated with the party, felt sidelined by Pilot. His stand on the Tablighi Jamaat controversy in 2020, and the alleged silence following the Junaid-Nasir lynching case and the Iqbal murder case did not go down well with the community.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

So, How Much Can Pilot Ask For?

Pilot had tons of factors not working in his favour this time, but there are significant factors that he can still negotiate on the basis of for a 'bigger' role in Rajasthan

A look at the factors that go against him:

  • Pilot's victory in his own constituency is undoubtedly huge. The victory margin of over 29,000 votes against BJP's Ajit Mehta is quite significant. However, the loss of 25,000 votes compared to 2018 will be difficult to overlook.

  • Even the loss of more than half of his staunch loyalists who backed his rebellion significantly weakens his bargaining power.

  • Gehlot is being seen as the chief minister who has delivered Congress' least embarrassing defeat in the past six elections with the state having flip-flopped between the two parties for the past three decades.

  • Though Pilot enjoys significant clout, Gehlot is a mass leader for the state and enjoys undisputed loyalty from the MLAs that support him, something that has always worked against Pilot. Case in point being the mass resignations offered by over 90 MLAs when Gehlot was touted to be the national Congress chief.

However, there are several factors that will work for him:

  • Pilot could very well use his sidelining by Gehlot in state politics as the key reason behind the swinging of Gujjar votes back to the BJP, which has cost the Congress at least 20 seats this time.

  • The issues of corruption, paper leak, and alleged Gehlot-Raje bonhomie that Pilot had raised repeatedly were eventually weaponised by the BJP in this election to not just target Gehlot but also Raje.

  • Pilot has a proven track record of leading the state to victory in 2018 when he was the state party chief while the BJP wave across the country was only stronger.

  • Many perceived 2023 as the last opportunity for Gehlot to become the Rajasthan chief minister given his age. If the former CM is now asked by the Congress central leadership to take up a national role ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, it might pave the way for Pilot to be given a bigger role in Rajasthan.

While Pilot already has a national role in the party with his recent appointment to the Congress Working Committee (CWC), experts believe that it will only be wise for the Congress to either bring him back as the state's general secretary or appoint him as the leader of the Opposition.

As the party is set to assess its performance on Tuesday in a meeting called by state president Govind Singh Dotasra, Pilot's next steps will be crucial for his political trajectory both in state and national politics.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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