It’s a long-held perception that the will of the Congress high command is the final word for everyone in the party. While the composition of the high command has transitioned from Indira Gandhi’s and Rajiv Gandhi’s teams to those of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, this rule has remained a constant. TheAshok Gehlot versus Sachin Pilot fight in Rajasthanis another instance, and maybe even mark a trend of the high command realizing that it is better to go with the regional leader than impose its own favourites on a state unit.
That Sachin Pilot is a favoured face is undeniable. Pilot and Rahul Gandhi both belong to the 2004 batch of first- time members of Parliament. As young MPs, they formed a clique that would, among other things, attend live music concerts at Blue Frog (a now defunct club) where their colleague Milind Deora would be playing the blues. As Rahul Gandhi became party general secretary, Pilot also grew, becoming a minister of state in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. They both went to St. Stephen’s College, although Rahul Gandhi didn’t complete his degree there, but they also shared other, deeper commonalities. Both had fathers who were trained pilots and both lost them too early in life.
And yet, a week after Pilot’s rebellion against Gehlot, the message to him is unequivocal: he is welcome to come back, but it won’t be by undermining his boss. Gehlot has proved he has the numbers and while Pilot may have genuine complaints against him, they cannot afford to upset a man who commands the maximum number of legislators in Rajasthan. This despite the fact that Pilot has Priyanka Gandhi’s ear. The two have spoken at least twice in the course of the week. Rahul and Sonia have also conveyed to mediators that they would like him to stay, but not at the cost of overriding party discipline.
It’s as if things have come a full circle in Rajasthan since 2014. That’s the time when the same high command handpicked Pilot to lead the party in Rajasthan after its worst-ever performance of winning just 21 seats out of 200 in the 2013 assembly elections. Pilot took on that assignment after eliciting a promise that Gehlot wouldn’t interfere in the state. And for two years or so, Gehlot held no real position other than being part of a screening committee for Punjab polls in 2016. In 2017, he was made a general secretary in Delhi, which meant that Pilot got full credit for winning the three crucial by-polls in early 2018. Despite chief minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia holding helm in the state, Pilot delivered the Lok Sabha seats of Ajmer and Alwar and Mandalgarh assembly seats with record margins. His word would now be the last word in the state.