Pi­lot throws heart, soul, plan­ner into his projects

In HEr Book, po­lIt­I­CAl tAlk sHow Host PrIyA SAHGAl HAs pro­filED 16 EmErG­InG po­lIt­I­CAl lEAD­Ers (un­DEr tHE AGE oF 55) wHo wIll Dom­I­nAtE In­DIA’s po­lIt­I­CAl lAnD­sCApE ovEr tHE nExt DECADE. BE­low ArE Ex­CErpts From tHE CHAp­tEr on SACHIn PI­lot.

The Sunday Guardian - - Covert -

Pol­i­tics in a Grain of Sand Be­fore he goes to see a movie, Sachin Pi­lot will first re­search the film, read the re­views and only then will he sit down to watch it. More­over, the movie has to be seen in the the­atre and not on DVD at home, be­cause, as he says, ‘What’s a movie with­out the pop­corn?’

That’s quin­tes­sen­tial Sachin Pi­lot. When he com­mits to a project, he throws his heart, soul, taste-buds and plan­ner into it. So when the 37-year-old Congress leader was asked to take over as the state Ra­jasthan Congress chief in early 2014, he moved bag and bag­gage to Jaipur, drop­ping out of sight from the na­tional me­dia, where he was a reg­u­lar, both on Page One and Page Three. The for­mer be­cause, de­spite be­ing the youngest min­is­ter in UPA-2 he was one of its more cred­i­ble faces and of­ten fielded to counter charges of cor­rup­tion that came up dur­ing the fag end of the gov­ern­ment’s term. The very same rea­sons also made him a must-have at ev­ery Lu­tyens’ Delhi bash and hence his pres­ence on Page Three.

There were those who saw Ra­jasthan as a pun­ish­ment post­ing, con­sid­er­ing that the Congress had just been dec­i­mated in the 2013 state elec­tions, get­ting its low­est tally ever with only 21 MLAs. Yet Sachin didn’t lose his dead­pan de­meanour when he told the me­dia: ‘This is a re­spon­si­bil­ity that has been given to me and I will do my best to de­liver.’ At an­other time, in a more can­did mood, he con­fessed, ‘It takes a lot of hard work to re­vive a re­cently de­feated party [In­dia To­day, March 2014].’

Dur­ing the next three years, he toured the en­tire 33 dis­tricts of the state in his Ford En­deav­our at least three to four times over, clock­ing over 3 lakh kms, get­ting to know ev­ery gali and ev­ery mo­halla of his new port­fo­lio. Also more im­por­tantly, he was giv­ing the state a chance to know him for him­self and not just an­other Congress scion (Sachin’s fa­ther, late Ra­jesh Pi­lot, was a pop­u­lar Congress leader from the state). His cal­en­dar was filled with ral­lies, mun­dans, wed­dings and funer­als. In the bar­gain he put on weight from eat­ing all those lad­doos. He has, also on oc­ca­sion been lathi-charged by the state of­fi­cials. In fact, if you nag him enough he may show you the pic­ture of a base­ball­sized pur­ple bruise on his well- toned bi­cep that went vi­ral on so­cial me­dia; and a copy of which is stored on his cell-phone.

Pi­lot be­longs to the Gur­jar caste and he has nur­tured this iden­tity along with the many other hats he wears. How­ever, in Ra­jasthan, the Gur­jars are not the dom­i­nant caste. Of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion in the state, 11.93 per cent are Jats, while 11.997 per cent are Sched­uled Tribes (STs) of which 6.001 per cent are Meenas and only 4.92 per cent are Gur­jars [Source: Congress Party’s in­ter­nal sur­vey dated 2018 Jan­uary]. Yet, Jats have tra­di­tion­ally cor­nered 30–40 seats in the 200- seat Assem­bly. For Pi­lot to be made the state party chief with­out hav­ing the right caste com­bi­na­tion is a tes­ti­mony by it­self. Sachin, how­ever, is im­pa­tient with cal­cu­la­tions like these. He says, ‘I don’t want caste to de­fine what kind of a per­son I will be as an ad­min­is­tra­tor. You have no choice over which caste or com­mu­nity you will be born into. I am proud and happy to be­long to the com­mu­nity I was born into. But it is what you say, what you do, how you act that de­fines you.’ Yet he is by now sea­soned enough to tone down his ide­al­ism with a touch of prag­ma­tism, for he adds: ‘It may play a role in elec­toral strat­egy but I don’t think it de­fines any­one.’ In­ter­est­ingly, the same in­ter­nal Congress sur­vey also states that Sachin has a huge ap­peal amongst the ur­ban youth from 18–45-year-olds which tra­di­tion­ally voted for the BJP.

What then is his come­back plan for Ra­jasthan? He replies, ‘ You are right when you say that the Congress was at its low­est when I took of­fice. But take a look at what’s hap­pened since then. Dur­ing the 2014 Lok Sabha elec­tions, the Congress polled 30 per cent vote and the BJP polled 56 per cent. A year and a half later, dur­ing the Pan­chayat elec­tions—which are the most com­pre­hen­sive of elec­tions at the grass­root level—the Congress polled 45 per cent and the BJP got 46-and-a-half per cent. The gap went to less than 2 per cent from a 26 per cent gap.’

In­ter­est­ingly, it is the state of Ra­jasthan that of­fered the Congress its first green shoots of hope for the 2019 Gen­eral Elec­tions. In Fe­bru­ary 2018, Sachin de­liv­ered an im­pres­sive morale build­ing win for the Congress when the party won all the three by-polls in his state. Two of these were for the Lok Sabha con­stituen­cies of Al­war and Ajmer while the third was for the Man­dal­garh assem­bly seat. Watch­ing the re­sults from the party of­fice in Ajmer, an ec­static Pi­lot was car­ried on the shoul­ders of his ex­u­ber­ant party work­ers for he was the face of the Congress of­fen­sive. Even amidst cel­e­bra­tions he bid cau­tion telling his sup­port­ers that there was still a lot of work to do. ‘They should not now rest and think the state elec­tions will be a walk-over,’ he told me with a sheep­ish look. Pi­lot’s ri­val in state pol­i­tics, for­mer CM of Ra­jasthan Ashok Gehlot, was also watch­ing tele­vi­sion that day. He later told the me­dia, ‘ PCC chiefs should not be mis­led by their fol- low­ers into think­ing they will au­to­mat­i­cally be­come chief min­is­ters.’ Game on! *** By the time the state elec­tions neared Pi­lot was op­ti­mistic enough to dream of a Congress come­back. His four-year ex­ile from Delhi was pay­ing div­i­dends. ‘ I don’t think crit­i­ciz­ing the BJP is enough. Yes we need to hold them to ac­count but we also need to present to the peo­ple of Ra­jasthan a bet­ter al­ter­na­tive. We need to tell the peo­ple that if you vote for us this is what we will do in ed­u­ca­tion, labour re­forms, em­ploy­ment, san­i­ta­tion, ur­ban devel­op­ment.’

So, he is not just a dreamer then, but also a man with a plan? His ‘To Do’ list has new age, devel­op­ment cen­tric is­sues, not the old lures of reser­va­tions and sops. Ur­ban city cen­tres, a wa­ter man­age­ment and con­ser­va­tion pol­icy, in­cen­tiviz­ing the Small and Medium Scale En­ter­prises (SMEs) so they can cre­ate jobs. But there is a prob­lem here. For all his drive and charisma, he still lacks a pan-Ra­jasthan con­nect. The two time for­mer CM Ashok Gehlot has the edge in that he has a firmer grip on the state or­ga­ni­za­tion and has made it clear he is keen on a third term. More im­por­tantly, Gehlot is fast emerg­ing as one of the few Congress lead­ers whose ad­vice Rahul Gandhi seems to heed. Which doesn’t bode very well for his young col­league. So, if the Congress does man­age to wrest the state from the BJP, will Sachin chalk up the last five years to ‘ job ex­pe­ri­ence’ or will he have some­thing more tan­gi­ble to show?

For now, as al­ways, Sachin plays it prag­matic. ‘It’s not im­por­tant whether they make me CM face or not,’ he says, poker-faced. And then, see­ing my dis­be­lief, adds: ‘I’ll tell you why. Most im­por­tant right now is for us to get a ma­jor­ity. Right now any­one who is think­ing about be­com­ing a CM is re­ally not do­ing a ser­vice to the party. I’ve been given so much. I’ve just turned 40 but al­ready fought three MP elec­tions, been a min­is­ter and now a pradesh ad­hyaksh (PCC chief). If I can steer the party to vic­tory in Ra­jasthan, my job is done. Who be­comes CM is for the party to de­cide.’ How­ever I don’t buy this logic. If there is no as­sured post then there is noth­ing to drive the hunger to suc­ceed. ‘Work­ing for the party’ makes a great Gand­hian sound­bite, but not prac­ti­cal pol­i­tics.

His ‘To Do’ list has new age, devel­op­ment cen­tric is­sues, not the old lures of reser­va­tions and sops. Ur­ban city cen­tres, a wa­ter man­age­ment and con­ser­va­tion pol­icy...

Sachin Pi­lot

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