This Article is From Aug 10, 2020

Peace Struck, Pilot Says "Didn't I Say I Would Not Join BJP?"

"I had maintained from Day One that I would never join the BJP. I stand vindicated today," Sachin Pilot, 42, told me exclusively for NDTV after news broke of a rapprochement between the high-profile rebel and the Congress leadership.

The truce, brokered in two meetings between Sachin Pilot and the Gandhis at Rahul Gandhi's home, effectively saves the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government in Rajasthan, teetering on the edge for a month.

The deal reportedly includes many more meetings with the Gandhi family, with the central leadership playing the role of "neutral umpire" between Pilot and Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot - who has gone public with his visceral dislike for his sacked deputy.

Gehlot, 69, called Pilot a "nikamma" (useless), "a handsome face hiding a scheming mind" and incredibly, also ranted against Pilot's fluent English implying that he had used his language skills to impress television anchors.


Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot (File photo)

Significantly, Pilot didn't say a word against his former boss even after this kind of provocation. Sources close to him maintain that his complaint was never against the Congress and its central leadership; Gehlot's style of functioning was his biggest objection.

Pilot kept quiet even after he was removed from his posts in Rajasthan, only tweeting, "truth will prevail".

What he also maintained throughout his revolt was the assertion that he was not joining the BJP.

Sources say that Mr Gehlot "was most upset" when he learnt of the determined patch-up attempt by the Gandhis and Pilot's wish to find a way back home.

Mr Gehlot apparently reached out to a top leader of Team Sonia who had backed him in his dispute with Pilot, but he was told that the survival of the Rajasthan government and the Gandhi family's keenness to see Pilot back in the fold trumped the Chief Minister's anger.


Rahul Gandhi and Sachin Pilot (File photo)

So let me unpack the development and its implications. The biggest takeaway is that the Congress does not lose another capable young mass leader like Pilot to the BJP after Jyotiraditya Scindia's pole vault three months ago. That cost the Congress its government in Madhya Pradesh.

Ever since Pilot rebelled, the Gandhi family had a one-line brief - they did not want Scindia 2.0. The reaction in the party to the Scindia defection - he let it be known that he had been denied an appointment for nearly a year - also forced the Gandhi family to work overtime to retain Pilot.

The optics of another young leader walking out was one the Congress could do without. Ditto the prospect of losing another big state.

Pilot was also facing pressure from the 18 other rebel MLAs; most were averse to joining the BJP.

Forming a regional front in Rajasthan - seen to be one of Pilot's options - is a tough prospect as the desert state has historically been bipolar, with the Congress and BJP swapping governments.

As Gehlot mounted a determined bid to save his government and guard his flock, the rebels - sequestered in a hotel in BJP-ruled Haryana - told Pilot three days ago that the Chief Minister was not crumbling and they were tired of resort-hopping.


Ashok Gehlot, Rahul Gandhi and Sachin Pilot (File photo)

Pilot took note and did a tactical reach-out to the Gandhi family, who received him like a prodigal son.

Pilot had a single-point demand - the removal of Gehlot, who had ordered charges accusing him of sedition. He has retreated on that demand after an assurance from the Gandhi family that his grievances and those of the other rebels will be addressed.

Since Gehlot has removed Pilot as Rajasthan Congress chief and deputy Chief Minister, the likely homecoming deal has to include some face-saver in the state that Pilot has always described as his "karmabhoomi" (place of work).

Pilot will be the Congress's Chief Ministerial face in the next elections and efforts will be made to ensure that Gehlot does not try to make him inconsequential in state politics.

Whether the two can ever work together after the public insults is debatable. Pilot, who is a stickler for his image, did not want to add the defector tag to his public life. Pilot also has the advantage of youth over Gehlot and is seen as the future of the Congress in Rajasthan.

By ensuring Pilot stays, the Gandhi siblings - Rahul and Priyanka - have finally scored politically for the Congress. Politics is all about optics.

Coming soon - the "all-is-well" photo-ops.

(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.