Sachin Pilot Returns: How the Gandhis & Gehlot Showed Who’s Boss
Ashok Gehlot’s astuteness & Congress leadership’s patience forced Sachin Pilot to blink first & end his rebellion.
Sachin Pilot's rebellion proved short-lived and he's all set to return back into the Congress fold. The manner in which the Congress handled the entire episode provides many indications of how things could be for the party in the not-so-distant future.
But first Pilot’s return. On Monday, 10 August, the former deputy chief minister of Rajasthan tweeted, “I thank Smt Sonia Ji, @RahulGandhi Ji, @priyankagandhi Ji & @INCIndia leaders for noting & addressing our grievances.I stand firm in my belief & will continue working for a better India, to deliver on promises made to the people of Rajasthan & protect democratic values we cherish.”
Earlier on Monday, Pilot met former Congress President Rahul Gandhi and party General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra at Rahul's Tughlak Road residence.
Soon after the meeting, the Congress party put out a statement saying:
“Shri Sachin Pilot has met with former Congress President Shri Rahul Gandhi and expressed his grievances in detail. They have had a frank, open and conclusive discussion. Shri Sachin Pilot has committed to working in the interest of the Congress party and the Congress government in Rajasthan.”
The Congress also announced that it has constituted a three-member committee to "address the grievances" of the rebel MLAs. The committee includes Priyanka Gandhi, Ahmed Patel, and KC Venugopal.
Priyanka Gandhi Moves Beyond UP
Till the end of July, the battle lines were very much drawn in Rajasthan, with Pilot loyalists like Deeg Kumher MLA Vishvendra Singh and Ladnun MLA Mukesh Bhakar continuing to attack Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.
Similarly, there was no olive branch from Gehlot and the new PCC chief Govind Singh Dotasra, both of who seemed adamant on conceding nothing to the rebels.
The process of making peace, therefore, took place in Delhi, around ten days ago. Through intermediaries, Pilot is said to have sent feelers to the Congress leadership that he is willing to negotiate.
A great deal of work was done behind the scenes by Ahmed Patel, KC Venugopal, Ajay Maken, and Randeep Singh Surjewala.
However, the highlight was the role played by Priyanka Gandhi.
According to reports, she is said to have reached out to Pilot during the beginning of the rebellion as well. Even on Monday, her involvement proved critical in convincing Pilot that his concerns would be addressed within the party.
It is, therefore, no coincidence that she is part of the three-member committee formed to address concerns of the rebel MLAs and ease their return to the party. Her presence is also supposedly to push Gehlot to be a bit more accommodating towards the Pilot camp.
What is significant here is that Priyanka Gandhi is the Congress party’s in-charge for Uttar Pradesh and this is her first major foray in matters outside her state.
The biggest winner in the entire episode is Ashok Gehlot. He has come out much stronger than what he was when his term began in 2018. He may concede the central leadership’s request to accommodate Pilot supporters in the government and the state party unit, but it is clear that Pilot’s wings have been clipped.
Gehlot is said to have sniffed Pilot’s rebellion even before it had fully materialised. He preempted it by alleging a plot to destabilise his government and the Special Operations Group arrested two people in connection with it.
Even before it became clear how many MLAs were actually with Pilot, Gehlot carried out a headcount of over 100 MLAs supporting him, indicating that he had the numbers. Despite the court ruling in Pilot's favour and the Governor not acceding to Gehlot's request to convene a session of the Assembly, the Rajasthan CM didn't let MLAs drift away and kept them at a hotel in Jaisalmer.
His handling was in sharp contrast to how the Congress mismanaged matters in Madhya Pradesh earlier this year, after the rebellion of Jyotiraditya Scindia and 22 MLAs led to the fall of the Kamal Nath government.
While Gehlot also had numbers on his side with a nearly 30 seat lead over the BJP unlike the single digit lead in MP, he was far more alert than Nath in keeping his flock together.
Having spent much more time in Rajasthan politics than Nath in MP, Gehlot had a far greater control over the state unit and much less threat from rivals.
Rahul Gandhi’s Role
However, a silent player in the entire episode was former Congress President Rahul Gandhi. Despite his close equation with Pilot, he didn't weaken Gehlot by giving in to the former's demands.
Instead, Gandhi chose to wait and let Pilot discover that he had no future in the BJP or as the leader of an independent party. But unlike in MP, he didn't completely leave matters to state leaders. So when Pilot was brought to the negotiating table by Priyanka Gandhi and other leaders, Rahul didn't hesitate to address his concerns.
What Happens Next?
Pilot's return, however, won't be without its fair share of questions.
The rebel MLAs stayed in BJP-ruled Haryana for all these weeks. Recordings surfaced in which a few MLAs could allegedly be heard negotiating with the BJP. Therefore, many in the Congress would continue to raise doubts over the Pilot camp’s claims that they were never in talks with the BJP.
The second question is: What next for Pilot?
It is almost certain that Pilot won’t be back as PCC chief. By placing Jat leader Govind Singh Dotasra in the position, Gehlot has ensured that any attempt to bring back Pilot could provoke a reaction from Jats, an influential votebank in Rajasthan.
Now, the question is whether Pilot goes back to Jaipur as Deputy CM or stays in Delhi to be accommodated as AICC general secretary or any other prominent organisational role?
In Pilot's return lies a hint of what lies ahead for the Congress.
Last week, the Congress announced that the process to elect a new president will take place in the "not so distant future".
Now, Pilot's rebellion was also partly due to the sidelining of Rahul, weakening of central leadership and reassertion of senior leaders like Gehlot. His return may not have been without the assurance that things are going to change in the party and that the new dispensation will be far more amenable to the ambitions of younger leaders like him.
It remains to be seen whether this is through a return of Rahul Gandhi, appointment of Priyanka Gandhi or another acceptable candidate.
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