To view Sachin Pilot’s rebellion in Rajasthan as only the result of unbridled personal ambition will be to miss its consequences for the Congress party. It is only a matter of time before he is out of the party but his departure will flag the complete failure of organisational politics.
Unable to strike a deal as yet with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and his bridges burnt with his parent party, Sachin Pilot is now in the wilderness at the mercy of extraneous political forces. Only the future can tell whether he can convert it into a long term political opportunity.
- Sachin Pilot is now in the wilderness at the mercy of extraneous political forces.
- The BJP would have preferred him and his loyalists to join the party like Jyotiraditya Scindia did in Madhya Pradesh.
- The BJP could not have precipitated a Madhya Pradesh style coup in Rajasthan where its own house is not in order.
- The BJP is not as comfortable with the leverage former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje enjoys in the legislative party.
- The exit of younger leaders like Scindia and now perhaps Pilot as well has created a political narrative that younger leaders are unhappy in the Congress.
- So even if the Congress retains its government under Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, as seems increasingly possible, it is still advantage BJP.
Did the BJP Really Offer a Purchase Price for Defection?
Pilot’s reported plan of forming a regional party and then a government in alliance with the BJP, was a non-starter from the saffron party’s point of view. The BJP would have preferred him and his loyalists to join the party like Jyotiraditya Scindia did in Madhya Pradesh. As in Scindia’s case, the BJP would probably only accommodate him at the Centre not as Chief Minister in the state. Sachin Pilot’s interlocutors in the BJP may have not also guaranteed ministerial berths to all his loyalists or promised to field them in the bye-elections ensuing from their disqualification.
Rumours of a ‘purchase price’ promised to the defecting legislators, and evidence of bargaining between the main interlocutors on taped telephone conversations in possession of the Rajasthan police Special Operations Group, must as usual remain in the realm of speculation.
If such evidence exists, it erodes the image that Pilot sought to project – of being deliberately and unjustifiably targeted by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.
Although developments in Rajasthan have been compared to events in Madhya Pradesh in March this year, the two situations are comparable only in that two young Congress leaders felt stifled in the party. The ground situation is quite different in the two states and the BJP may not have been as ready to take power in Rajasthan for internal reasons.
For BJP, Rajasthan is Not Madhya Pradesh
The BJP could not have precipitated a Madhya Pradesh style coup in Rajasthan where its own house is not in order. The central leadership of the party does not see eye-to-eye with the party’s tallest leader in the state, former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia. She might not have been the party’s choice as chief minister even if the BJP had won the last legislative assembly election. It was nurturing the current Jodhpur MP Gajendra Singh Shekhawat to replace her.
In any case the mandate in Rajasthan in the Oct 2018 assembly elections was starkly against the BJP (73 seats against 100 of the Congress in a House of 200). The balance of numbers was far better for the BJP in MP (109 seats for the BJP to 114 of the Congress in a House of 230). Nevertheless the BJP did not bring down the Congress government until its Central leadership was absolutely certain that it wanted Shivraj Singh Chouhan as Chief Minister. The BJP is not as comfortable with the leverage former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje enjoys in the legislative assembly.
BJP Happy With ‘Unhappy’ Congress Leaders
As far as the BJP is concerned, local circumstances permitting, it is only too happy to take in the alternative regional leaders emerging within the Congress. A Himanta Biswa Sarma in Assam today or another young leader in Maharashtra or Uttar Pradesh tomorrow suits them.
These youngsters come to the BJP with their own support base, extending the party’s reach beyond its traditional Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh based grass-roots structure. They extend its political tent and increase the BJP’s acceptability among newer sections of voters.
The exit of younger leaders like Scindia and now perhaps Pilot as well has created a political narrative that younger leaders are unhappy in the Congress. This is underlined by supportive statements and tweets for Sachin Pilot from his younger colleagues like Jitin Prasada in the party. Milind Deora is yet to react but he too has been straining at the leash. An obvious conclusion to draw would be that those in Rahul Gandhi’s ‘youth brigade’, inducted as ministers in UPA-II and projected as the future of the Congress, today no longer feel wanted in the party.
Congress ‘Wounded Tigers’ Are Advantage BJP
Before using labels like political opportunism one must recognise that they have not been lured by the ideological pull of the BJP. They seem to be leaving out of personal pique, a sense of being undervalued by the party. Defection should be seen as an instrument of last resort wielded chiefly to teach a lesson to the Congress leadership and to spite their political rivals in the party. As Jyotiraditya Scindia’s hyperbolic statement “Tiger abhi zinda hai (Tiger is still alive)” suggests, this is a wounded tiger’s mind set – it will not go down without taking a few victims and inflicting considerable damage. It suggests that intra-party disputes could not be resolved either within the party organisation or by its central leadership.
So even if the Congress retains its government under Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, as seems increasingly possible, it is still advantage BJP. The crises in MP and Rajasthan expose the organisational deficiencies of the Congress. It should prioritise putting its house in order before blaming rivals for all its woes. Allowing a free-for-all only sends out the signal that there are neither effective arbitration mechanisms in the party nor a mature central leadership.
Congress Needs to Get Its House in Order
Above all the party must not encourage a public narrative of Old Guard vs. Young Turks, suggesting that those who could work with Sonia Gandhi cannot do so with the next generation. The party has to look beyond its aging leadership and create conditions that make it easier for younger talent to come into its own.
The organisational crisis facing the party cannot be solved by scrambling to assuage a Sachin Pilot today or someone else tomorrow by throwing them bits and pieces. The party will have to get stronger institutionally and organisationally flexible to deal with emerging situations. Otherwise the tactical bumbling from one crisis to the next will continue.
(The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)