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.
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...