Pilotless Congress and restless Sachin in Rajasthan’s Game of Thrones Season 3 |

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If Sachin Pilot is forced toward what has been feared the most, the cost will be high, at a time when Congress is scrambling for the formula that can break its hopeless cycle of poll defeats. But that’s not the whole point.

If you follow Indian political news, chances are you will often come across some Rajasthan politician warning the Congress high command that enough is enough and time is running out to make Sachin Pilot the chief minister.

This and the accompanying remarks that any more delay in replacing the incumbent, Ashok Gehlot, will be disastrous for the party as only Pilot as CM can ensure a victory in the next polls may sound similar to the perennial chorus for youngsters like Sanju Samson to be inducted into the Indian cricket team.

Those from Pilot’s camp driving the Sachin-for-CM campaign include Gehlot’s ministers Hemaram Choudhary and Rajendra Gudha, and others such as Divya Maderna, Sumitra Arya, Vijay Bainsla and Kundan Yadav.

There are many more who aren’t as vocal at this stage but want Pilot to take charge in a state, only one of the two where the party is in power on its own, the other being Chhattisgarh. Though there is no denying that the majority of the MLAs are with Gehlot, that’s beside the point.


For the uninitiated, this is Rajasthan’s Game of Thrones season 3. And Pilot isn’t the only rebel. Let’s go back to 2018 when the Congress won Rajasthan and young Pilot was seen as an architect of the victory, no mean feat given how the BJP’s election machine works.

But the Gandhis favoured old guard loyalist Gehlot for the CM’s chair, which sowed the seeds of friction between him and Pilot. Simmering tensions of 18 months escalated into a near-revolt by Pilot in 2020 when he breathed down Gehlot’s neck from a luxury resort near Delhi also hosting 19 MLAs.

Many thought Pilot may move to the BJP or split the Congress in the state if not made the CM. The Gandhis forced a ceasefire and asked him to be patient and wait for his time. It was an uneasy truce. Pilot didn’t have the numbers as over 100 MLAs were backing Gehlot. Pilot didn’t cross over as many Congress leaders have. This should have merited a reward, given the perennial exodus from the Congress.

But this is what happened: Pilot was sacked as Deputy Chief Minister and state Congress president for trying to destabilise the Rajasthan government with the BJP. Gehlot even called Pilot nikamma and nakara (useless).


Ahead of the Congress presidential election in October, the Gandhis had the opportunity to correct a past mistake. They wanted to kill two birds with one stone. Gehlot was told to take up the party’s presidency and let Pilot become the CM. But for Gehlot, the pull of staying in charge of a state outweighed the promise of running the party, with the Gandhis pulling the strings from behind.

Gehlot and his group of MLAs rebelled. He stayed put. Pilot had the high command’s backing but not the numbers.

Gehlot was let off as it would have been another bad spectacle at a time the party was highlighting its inner democracy in the presidential election, even though nobody had any doubts that undeclared official nominee Mallikarjun Kharge would easily defeat change candidate Shashi Tharoor.

Shashi Tharoor with the President of Indian National Congress Mallikarjun Kharge.

The party didn’t want any more bad Press when its de facto leader Rahul Gandhi was on his Bharat Jodo Yatra. The party did what it often does: staying in its auto-pilot mode, thinking the crisis would resolve itself.


Rahul Gandhi on Bharat Jodo Yatra.

The same Bharat Jodo Yatra will enter Rajasthan early next month. And Pilot isn’t mincing words. He has asked, quite unlike him, the Congress to punish MLAs who defied the party’s command to elect him the CM, and sided with Gehlot.

More recently, a restless Pilot criticised Gehlot for praising PM Modi, saying everyone saw what happened after Ghulam Nabi Azad praised the prime minister. Azad recently became the latest in a long list of Congress leaders quitting the party.

Kharge is supposed to fix the mess in Rajasthan, where elections are due in less than a year. But does he have full authority? Rahul has the unofficial authority but, preoccupied by his Kanyakumari to Kashmir mass-contact foot march, does he have the time and interest?

Rahul is aware that a decision in Pilot’s before the Bharat Jodo Yatra enters Rajasthan may prompt Gehlot’s supporters to disrupt the Congress’s mega showpiece outreach for 2024.

But what the party also shouldn’t lose sight of is this: A Congress-jodo attempt in Rajasthan will only let the wounds bleed and hurt. It will be as bad as indecision that may ultimately force Pilot toward what has been feared the most: a full-blown rebellion.

But is it possible? Well, why, in any case, do people quit an organisation? They do so when they see no future for themselves after being driven to the point of no return.

In HR terminology, the examples of Red Boss and Green Boss are often cited. The first one is, well, bossy, noisy, controlling and hyperactive, causing employees to suffer from anxiety. The other one is seemingly easy and non-interfering but the chronic indecisiveness is enough to leave the reportees depressed and prone to drastic measures.

There is a popular Internet quote: People leave managers and not companies. From Himanta Biswa Sarma to Jyotiraditya Scindia, ask anyone why they left the Congress for the BJP, and you will have the answer, and nothing will then seem too surprising.

Himanta’s exit saw the whole of India’s northeast changing political allegiance, while Scindia delivered a lost Madhya Pradesh to the BJP.

The cost will simply be high this time too, when the Congress is helplessly struggling to find the formula that can break a hopeless cycle of election losses and somehow rebrand it as a potential alternative to the BJP when India votes in 2024. Pilot doesn’t have Gehlot’s experience and political sharps but he is a big fish nonetheless.

Gehlot is guilty of muscle-flexing of the kind never seen in decades. Who else in the Congress could have survived after defying the Gandhis? It’s true he has the support of most MLAs and it’s a difficult choice for the party.

Rajathan CM Ashok Gehlot is guilty of muscle-flexing of the kind never seen in decades.

But that’s where leadership matters more. It makes difficult choices. The party had promised action. Only inaction has followed. And that’s where Pilot is hurting the most. Ajay Maken recently quit as Congress’s Rajasthan incharge precisely because of this inaction. This could get only messier.

Recently, Gehlot was seen sitting next to Sonia at a meeting held in Delhi To remember Indira Gandhi. Gehlot tweeted the picture to give an impression that his apology for the defiance had been accepted.


To be fair, the Congress should have taken Pilot out of Rajasthan and brought him to Delhi long back. But it’s too late now. Many would like to ask him not to take the ownership of Gehlot’s anti-incumbency, going into the Rajasthan polls next year, and start afresh. But this is why it’s now or never for Pilot.

If Pilot is made CM now and the Congress wins Rajasthan, he will retain his post, because he will have proven himself, through strategy, campaigning and results, to be the rightful claimant of the job. A change before the election can help neutralise some of the anti-incumbency, many would argue.

If the party loses under Pilot’s chief ministership, he will have five years, during which Gehlot is likely to lose his clout, to expand both the party and his own base, something he couldn’t do before and after the previous standoffs, and also trust the electoral cycle in Rajasthan that usually rejects the incumbent.

The Congress, even outside Rajasthan, desperately needs to connect with the youth and other sections of society in order to have a credible shot at revival. What happened to Tharoor, and by extension to the party, shouldn’t happen again.

But if Pilot is not made the CM now, and the Congress wins the next election, Gehlot will be even more difficult to dislodge, at least in his initial years in office.

If the party loses under Gehlot, well, many would recall where he was when it happened the last time. It was the Pilot who showed the energy to work on the ground when nobody was watching.

Without taking Pilot’s name, Gehlot has said, “We shouldn’t feel bad if somebody has a little bit of ambition.” Clearly, Pilot isn’t short on ambition. But the question is: Does Pilot have enough fuel in him this time to take off in the face of fresh efforts to keep him grounded?

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