On the face of it, a second generation dynast and somewhat restless Sachin Pilot does not give a glimpse of serious, focussed, and a sought-after politician who is determined to make a big mark inside and outside the grand old party.
Pilot, 44, is now all set to play a second innings and an influential role in the 136-year-old Congress. Having engineered a boisterous rebellion in July 2020 that had almost pushed the Rajasthan unit of the party, and Ashok Gehlot government on the brink, Pilot made a remarkable comeback of conciliation and loyalty.
He is set to become a general secretary at the all-powerful All India Congress Committee (AICC), and is a close associate of Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi — a role that likes of Ahmed Patel (late), Ghulam Nabi Azad, Digvijaya Singh, Kamal Nath and Ambika Soni had played on different occasions to Sonia Gandhi.
Pilot’s ‘first innings’ was impressive. He became a Lok Sabha MP at the age of 26 (where the minimum age is 25), ministerial responsibility at 30, and the post of Deputy Chief Minister at 40. In 2009, actor Abhishek Bachchan went on record to admit that he fashioned a role of a politician Amol Art in the blockbuster film Paa on Sachin Pilot.
When the film was to be released, Bachchan had said, “I have modelled my look after Sachin Pilot and Milind Deora. There were no special efforts taken for my look in the film because we wanted to keep the character as normal as possible."
The looks of a ‘normal politician’ have been Pilot’s strength in his public life. Always attentive and courteous to a fault, Pilot’s public pronouncements are invariably measured, politically correct, and aimed at keeping him politically relevant. Many old timers in the Congress describe Pilot as a “lambi race ka ghoda” (one who is in for the long haul).
Pilot, who was minister for corporate affairs, was born in 1977 — the same year his ministry secretary cracked the IAS. The duo, however, worked in unison and proficiently. An MBA from the University of Pennsylvania and a Lieutenant in the Territorial Army, Pilot built a reputation of grasping complex issues with ease and writing incisive notes on the files that often caught the attention of then prime minister Manmohan Singh, and then senior Cabinet minister Pranab Mukherjee.
Pilot ran into trouble in 2018 when the party won Rajasthan assembly polls. As head of the Rajasthan Congress unit who had worked tirelessly since 2014, Pilot had his eyes firmly on the chief ministerial post. However, the coveted seat went to Gehlot. Pilot was reportedly given an assurance that after Lok Sabha polls of 2019, his claim would be reconsidered.
The outcome of the 2019 Lok Sabha was disastrous for the Congress. In March 2020, Pilot’s friend and Congress leader from Madhya Pradesh Jyotiraditya Scindia lost patience and switched sides to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), resulting in the collapse of the 15-month old Kamal Nath regime. It is believed that Scindia was given a similar assurance as given to Pilot.
Pilot used some back channels to get the attention of the Congress high command even as a hawkish BJP (through intermediaries) were reportedly working on a section of Congress MLAs to replicate a Bhopal-like coup in Jaipur.
Pilot came to Delhi and Manesar with his loyal MLAs. There was all round panic in the Congress. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot turned confrontationist, seeking Pilot’s removal as Rajasthan unit chief, Deputy Chief Minister, and the exit of his loyalists in the state government. Priyanka Gandhi and Ahmed Patel stepped in as peacemakers. There was a buzz that Pilot’s brother-in-law and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah too played a role in the rapprochement.
The rebellion was averted much to the chagrin of Gehlot who wanted Pilot and his MLAs out of the party. AICC’s interim president Sonia Gandhi appointed a panel consisting of Patel, Ajay Makan and KC Venugopal to work out a peace deal. Just as a peace formula was being worked, Patel succumbed to COVID 19-related complications. This meant that a middle ground was not reached and for almost a year tension brewed between the Gehlot and Pilot camps of the Congress in Rajasthan.
As time passed the Gandhi trio (Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi) started valuing Pilot more and more for his patience and commitment towards the Congress. He campaigned for the party in various by-polls and in assembly polls.
Instead of turning rebellious or quitting the party (like dozens of his friends and colleagues), Pilot seems to believe in Leo Tolstoy words: “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”
Finally on November 21, Gehlot blinked first, and took back some of Pilot’s supporters into his council of ministers. Pilot is now ready to move to Delhi to take up an assignment in the AICC secretariat.
Pilot’s supporters are hopeful that closer to the 2023 Rajasthan polls, their leader would get a chance to be projected as chief ministerial face. There is also hope that the transition would be smoother and dealt with finesse than what has happened in Punjab.
Rasheed Kidwai is a political commentator, author and visiting Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.
Views are personal and do not represent the stand of this publication.