With Sachin Pilot’s ouster as Deputy Chief Minister and Pradesh Congress Committee chief of Rajasthan, it is déjà vu all over again. The development comes close on the heels of the exit of Jyotiraditya Scindia in Madhya Pradesh under similar circumstances. While Pilot’s future has been speculated ever since Scindia made the switch to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), there could be more such exits of young politicians from a rudderless Congress in days to come.
While it is clear that the Congress ‘High Command’ waited till the ‘horses….bolted’ (to borrow Congress leader Kapil Sibal’s phrase) to try and placate Pilot, one wonders if the high profile exits of Scindia and Pilot are purely accidental or part of a larger design.
Back in 2003, following the Shimla Conclave, efforts were on in the Congress to identify a slew of young and promising faces to make their political debuts with a then shy and bespectacled 33-year-old Rahul Gandhi. Scindia was already an MP following the tragic death of his father Madhavrao Scindia in 2001, and Pilot had barely qualified to contest an election at 25.
While Gandhi steadfastly stayed away from ministerial positions despite being prodded more than once by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, fellow Congress dynasts such as Scindia and Pilot made their mark as ministers and parliamentarians.
When it was their turn to grab chief ministerial positions after leading Congress to victory in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan respectively in late 2018, their ambitions were thwarted, and were instead asked to wait for their turn. True, both Scindia and Pilot had taken giant strides by then — initially on account of their lineage, and later on their own ability. Yet, a chief ministerial position was seen as too high-profile by the Gandhi coterie for Scindia or Pilot to occupy before Gandhi could make his mark.
After all, Narendra Modi had emerged as a prime ministerial contender in the BJP by his perceived success as Gujarat Chief Minister and such a risk was not advisable as the less talented Gandhi, who had qualified for Congress presidency purely on account of his lineage, had still not delivered.
The need to contain leaders seen as contenders to Rahul Gandhi became all the more incumbent as Gandhi had stepped down as Congress President following the 2019 general election rout.
With Scindia and Pilot’s exits in quick succession, there is no one else within the Congress to even figure as a name to rival Gandhi and, his comeback as President can now be orchestrated swiftly for want of a contender.
It has to be underscored that it’s not the ‘old guard’ versus ‘young guard’ at play here, but merit versus mediocrity. Although Gandhi began the race together with Scindia, Pilot and the others, his fellow Congress dynasts have left Gandhi way behind. That explains the ploy to cut to size anyone who emerged as a threat to the ‘chosen one’ by the seniors and juniors alike in the AICC coterie.
This is where arguments like Scindia and Pilot were “young men in a hurry” or “over-ambitious” doesn’t really cut ice. What prevents young men from aspiring for key political positions? Pilot definitely earned it — he slogged it in the desert state for five years building up the organisation and rank and file after the 2013 rout when Congress was reduced to 21 seats after Ashok Gehlot’s second term.
The argument that Gehlot commanded majority in the legislature party following the election is also a bit disingenuous, for the decision was arrived at by the AICC in Delhi.
It also needs to be remembered that Gehlot himself was in Pilot’s shoes in 1998 when he got the nod over veteran Parasram Maderna as Chief Minister. The likes of Digvijaya Singh in Madhya Pradesh and Gehlot in Rajasthan emerged as chief ministerial faces in their forties, but the charismatic duo of Scindia and Pilot are left to wait their turn for Gandhi to leapfrog them than anything else.
Congress can ill-afford such attrition at a time the opposition’s role is under the scanner more than ever.Anand Kochukudy is a political commentator. Views are personal.