Close on the heels of the Congress party’s thumping victory in Karnataka, a desert storm has emerged yet again in Rajasthan, reminding the party that it cannot afford to rest on its laurels. Sources told The Quint that the top Congress leadership will convene a meeting in the national capital on Thursday, 25 May, to figure out how to resolve the ever-evolving tussle between Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot and former deputy CM Sachin Pilot.
Pilot, on the completion of his five-day and 125-kilometre ‘Jan Sangharsh Yatra’ announced an ultimatum for the CM— he has asked for his demands to be met by 30 May or he will launch a state-wide agitation. Within the Congress party, there is speculation that if the high command doesn’t act soon to pacify Pilot, he may announce the formation of a new political party on 11 June — his father, late Rajesh Pilot’s death anniversary.
Why Congress Didn't Act Against Pilot Earlier
The Congress party’s meeting was scheduled after Pilot publicly threatened to up the scale of his agitation if his demands are not met by the end of the month. While speaking to the media on Tuesday, Sukhjinder Randhawa, the AICC in-charge for Rajasthan addressed Pilot’s statement, saying “Pilot has given an ultimatum to CM. It is the CM who can respond to his ultimatum.”
AICC sources told The Quint Randhawa is “deeply unhappy” with Pilot’s actions — first the one-day sit in fast against the Congress government in April, then the yatra and now the ultimatum. Randhawa had issued a statement against Pilot’s fast earlier calling it an “anti-party activity.” However, he subsequently dialed down, and it is learnt that this was because of the Gandhi family’s close ties with Pilot. “His hands are tied and so he has left everything to the Gandhis and Kharge ji now,” a source close to Randhawa said.
The Quint has also learnt that during Pilot’s fast last month, the AICC Communications team was about to release a statement against Pilot’s move. It so happened that when Pilot was on his protest, senior Congress leaders like Mallikarjun Kharge, KC Venugopal, Randeep Surjewala, Jairam Ramesh were all in Karnataka, holding a meeting with the state leadership ahead of the elections.
While the leadership all agreed with the draft of the statement, one senior leader cautioned against releasing any statement against Pilot without checking with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi first — since the two are known to be close to Pilot. Eventually, no such statement ended up being released.
Then, Kamal Nath was roped in by the party high command to play mediator between Pilot and Gehlot. While the senior leader managed to calm things down temporarily, Pilot wasn’t satisfied.
What Does Pilot Want?
Sachin Pilot has been restless for at least three years now for the post of the state CM. In 2020, he had fallen face down when his “rebellion” failed as he didn’t have enough MLAs of the party backing him. Then since September 2022, when Gehlot’s loyalists didn’t show up at a legislative party meet called by the central party leadership, Pilot has been demanding that action be taken against Gehlot. And now, he has put forth three demands: disbanding the Rajasthan Public Service Commission (RPSC) and its fresh reconstitution, compensation for the people who have been affected by government job exam paper leak cases, and a high-level probe into corruption charges levelled against the former Vasundhara Raje-led BJP government.
The leverage that Pilot has is the fact that Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) leader Hanuman Beniwal has offered the leader to join hands with him and so has the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). AAP and RLP together want Pilot to join them and head to the Rajasthan elections, slated for December, together. However, sources said that Pilot has refused this offer multiple times in the past, but things might be different next month.
“He (Pilot) is aware that many Congress leaders who have quit the party and joined other parties aren’t necessarily in a very good position. Compared to that, Pilot is still enjoying considerable respect within Congress,” he said.
Why Congress Has Been Unwilling To Concede So Far
So far, the Congress has offered Pilot multiple posts within the party on different occasions, The Quint has learnt.
But the party has been unwilling to offer him the post of CM. This is because the leadership wants to avoid a Punjab-like situation to be repeated in Rajasthan. Ahead of the elections in Punjab in 2022, there was a revolt by Navjot Singh Sidhu against then CM Amarinder Singh and the issue was similar - lack of action against the Badals. In a last-minute call, Charanjeet Channi was made the state CM, and this decision is seen to have contributed to Congress’ loss in the state.
The Congress does not want to make any bold changes ahead of the polls, and give little time to the voters to adjust to it.