Sachin Pilot's Guide To Political Survival

Both sides - Sachin Pilot and the Gandhi-powered Congress High Command - are going through the motions of reconciliation and forgiveness.

All talk with very different action as in reality, Pilot, with his 16 MLAs in tow, is still talking to the BJP, hoping for a face-saver - an independent outfit supported by the BJP and some Congress "players" that he presumes will crash his new party.

Egos are aflame on both sides. Congress party-shooters claim that Pilot, in cahoots with the BJP, tried to bring down his own government thrice. Once BC (Before Coronavirus), then in the Rajya Sabha elections held last month, and now with the "Manesar rebellion".


Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot (File photo)

Pilot, who was unceremoniously dumped as Deputy Chief Minister and state president of the Congress - is angry. Summarizing his concerns, he offers these two points: After I spoke to Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (on the weekend), I reposed my faith in the party (I have never said an anti-Congress word in public) and then I said I was not joining the BJP. What did I get for this effort? Notices (of being disqualified as a Congress MLA)."

On the other side, the veteran Congress trouble-shooter says, "Let him once in a public statement say I will speak to the Congress President (Sonia Gandhi) or the ex Congress President (Rahul Gandhi) and ask them without any conditions for justice, make no pre-conditions (such as he has been making) and return to Jaipur."

Manesar may be a short drive from Jaipur but the distance is growing.

Rahul Gandhi's since-denied statement to the Youth Congress that "Let anyone leave, big leader or otherwise, and it creates more space for you" has, as usual, exacerbated the problem at a crucial moment.


Sachin Pilot has ruled out a resolution that does not involve him being promoted to Chief Minister

Those acting on behalf of the Gandhis maintain that all it takes is a hand on the shoulder (yes, Congress symbol pun intended) placed at the right time by the "family" to cut the tension - but of late, that hasn't been working. Scindia bolted; Pilot is following in his three-month-old footsteps.

Political pragmatism has to be considered. Pilot is livid but is also aware that he may have over-estimated his ability to yank legislators from the Congress. Rajasthan is not Madhya Pradesh where the margin of the Kamal Nath government was thin enough for Scindia to dislodge it. Pilot cannot deliver the Rajasthan sequel and that is the only ask of the power-hungry Amit Shah and his "Congress-mukt Bharat" agenda.

Another big difference. In Madhya Pradesh, four-time Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan accommodated Scindia and his men - he knew that was the price of re-admission to the top office. In Rajasthan, the BJP's Vasundhara Raje is in no mood to encourage potential contenders or rival power players, especially those who can't make her Chief Minister. Shah has to tread carefully with her - Raje has a fractious relationship Modi and him and controls a substantial group of 45 MLAs.

The only option Pilot has, based on the current strength of his posse, is to leverage the opening left for him by the Gandhi family and return as the prodigal son. Or start a quasi-political outfit fighting for farmer rights. The trouble for him is Rajasthan is binary in its political choices, alternatively voting for the Congress and the BJP.


Rahul Gandhi and Sachin Pilot (File photo)

Pilot is young - a mere 42 to Gehlot's 69 - and could be better served by waiting it out with the Congress. Rahul Gandhi has reportedly told him he will become Chief Minister at a later point but for now, it would be tough to send him back in Jaipur and risk Gehlot becoming a lame duck. Instead, Pilot could be given a pivotal position at the centre.

Gehlot, meanwhile, confident that he can win a trust vote, is allowing no concessions for Pilot. The attacks on his former deputy have become personal and brutal - "only handsome with good English" and "evidence that he handled cash transaction to buy MLAs". Gehlot also has to do succession planning for his son, Vaibhav, who lost the general election from Jodhpur. Siding with Gehlot is the much-pilloried Congress Old guard.

Pilot has sharp political instincts and understands that the public narrative of being power-hungry and in a hurry to topple his own government, that too in a pandemic, will damage him. What he is waiting for is an offer from the Gandhis that can allow him to end this escapade without adding insult to the injury.

Whether his bailout comes from the passive-aggressive Congress or the BJP with some Shah-conjured MLAs is what the next few days will decide. And then there's the option that young leaders who feel let down with Rahul Gandhi describe as the V P Singh and Sonia Gandhi move - public renunciation with eventual power.

(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.