Why Jyotiraditya Scindia’s Revolt Might Benefit Sachin Pilot
Despite his disappointments with the Congress, could Sachin Pilot really join the BJP? It seems improbable.
Ever since Jyotiraditya Scindia quit the Congress, political circles are buzzing overtime that Sachin Pilot may be the next ‘Young Gun’ to move away from the Grand Old Party. A close confidante of Scindia, Rajasthan's Deputy Chief Minister, Pilot is now the focus of intense speculation that he may soon take the same rebellious route as the Gwalior ‘Maharaja’.
The key question is: will Pilot revolt like Scindia and join the saffron brigade?
Similarities Between Scindia & Pilot & Their Circumstances
On the face of it, there are striking similarities between Pilot and Scindia. The two were integral members of the Congress ‘youth brigade’ nurtured by Rahul Gandhi in the UPA years. Both were not only highly articulate and dynamic, but also sons of very prominent and popular Congress veterans – Rajesh Pilot and Madhavrao Scindia, respectively. Given their political pedigree, both were made ministers in the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government and in 2018, both were extensively involved in the Congress campaign for the Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Though it was widely expected that after a Congress win in the two states, Scindia and Pilot would become the state chieftains, the party High Command eventually opted for elderly leaders as chief ministers.
Inevitably, the context in which the two young leaders are now said to be disappointed with the Congress High Command is also alike.
If Scindia is miffed with the Kamal Nath/Digvijay combo in Madhya Pradesh, Pilot’s differences with Ashok Gehlot have hardly been a state secret. In fact, the tussle between the CM and the deputy CM has been an unseemly but unending feature of Congress rule in Rajasthan over the past fifteen months. Often critical of the state’s law and order situation (Gehlot is also home minister), Pilot even took public potshots at the CM – as recently as two months ago – over the large number of infant deaths at a government hospital in Kota district.
What Sachin Pilot Would Have to Do To Topple Gehlot’s Rajasthan Govt
Despite these broad parallels, there are vital differences which make it unlikely that Pilot will follow the Scindia path. Firstly, Pilot is not as isolated or powerless as Sindhia possibly felt in the Madhya Pradesh set up. Sachin holds two powerful positions – of Deputy Chief Minister and PCC Chief in Rajasthan – whereby he and his supporters enjoy power both in the government and in the party.
As Panchayat Raj and Rural Development Minister, Pilot has created the highest man days in any state under MNREGA.
Significantly, senior bureaucrats confirm that files of his department do not go to the CMO, and Gehlot has never reviewed Pilot’s departments though he regularly reviews all other departments. While he may not enjoy quite the clout that he craves, Pilot’s presence has resulted in the creation of two power centres, even though Gehlot is now a three-time CM.
Moreover, the political arithmetic of the Rajasthan Assembly militates against Pilot doing a Scindia.
In the house of 200 members, the Congress now has 107 MLAs of its own, and the Gehlot government is supported by 12 Independents. In contrast, the BJP has 73 MLAs. To topple the Gehlot government, Sachin would need to break away a large chunk of Congress MLAs. But party insiders say that given Ashok Gehlot’s firm grip on his flock, a revolt by such a substantial number of Congress MLAs, even if Pilot tried, looks almost impossible.
The ‘Abdullah’ Factor Might Prevent Sachin From Joining BJP
Beyond the numbers game is the ‘Abdullah Factor’. Sachin’s wife, Sara, is the daughter of former J&K Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah. She had recently moved the Supreme Court for the release of both her father, and brother Omar Abdullah. The Abdullahs have been under house arrest for over seven months on orders of the Modi dispensation after the abrogation of Article 370. Although Farooq’s sudden release on Friday has set off murmurs that it may be a ‘covert bid to woo Sachin’, political observers say the ill-treatment of his in-laws in the Kashmir mess makes it verily impossible for Pilot to join the BJP bandwagon.
Sachin’s self-image as a leader also seems at vast variance from Scindia.
After he moved to Rajasthan in 2014 and began working on the ground, Pilot has tried to fashion himself as a mass Leader with a strong grassroots connect.
Unlike Scindia who grew restless within one year of sitting out of Parliament, Pilot worked hard for five years, after he and the Congress went out of power in 2014. As such, Pilot is no longer just a Delhi-based neta with a young, glamorous face; instead he’s a seasoned politician who sees his destiny in the desert state.
Sachin Pilot’s Emerging Status as a Mass Leader
Not surprisingly, Pilot has now remained state Congress chief for over six years, and, like his father, aims to be a leader whose power emanates from the masses rather than just the party high command. Also, his major support base – the tribal community of Gujjars – is considered more comfortable in the Congress than the BJP. Unlike Scindia who rides on the royalty factor, Sachin’s modest social background helps him connect more easily with the masses; an enviable connect for which he even uses his father’s famous greeting of ‘Ram-Ram-Sa’ to the hilt. While Scindia has remained cocooned in his cozy, high-flying Delhi circuit, Pilot has emerged as a mass leader in Rajasthan in the post-2014 era – and he’s unlikely to throw away this hard-earned stature for any short-term gains.
Finally, we must grapple with the critical query – despite his disappointments with the Congress, could Pilot really join the BJP?
It’s worth remembering that unlike Scindia who has deep roots in the Saffron family – ranging from his grandmother Vijaya Raje to aunts Yashodhara and Vasundhara Raje – nobody in Pilot’s family has ever been in the BJP. Also, as Pilot is already Deputy CM, there’s no reason for him to switch unless he gets the CM-ship. However, BJP biggies in Rajasthan like Vasundhara Raje, Om Mathur, Gajendra Shekhawat, etc will simply refuse to accept Pilot as CM. While the BJP needs his support to torpedo the Gehlot government, it will be tough to cut a deal with Pilot as he would expect nothing less than the chief minister-ship as his minimum prize.
Sachin Pilot May Not Bite the BJP Bait Yet
Of course, as a suave and seasoned politician, Pilot will weigh all options before he makes a final decision. He knows he is the sole choice after Gehlot, and is widely seen as the future of the Congress in Rajasthan. Given that he’s nearly eight years younger than Scindia, Pilot still has time on his side and could wait some more to get the top job.
In a sense, Scindia’s revolt may well turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Pilot.
Far from junking the Congress, Pilot could capitalise his new-found opportunity to push the party High Command to elevate him as CM sooner rather than later.
As he seems keen to carve out a special place as a mass Leader in Indian politics, Pilot would not want his public image to be that of an ideologically pliable and politically opportunistic politician. While Pilot would be a huge catch for the BJP, he's unlikely to take the bait just yet.
(The author is a veteran journalist and expert on Rajasthan politics. Besides serving as a Resident Editor at NDTV, he has been a Professor of Journalism at the University of Rajasthan in Jaipur. He tweets at @rajanmahan. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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