The recent debacle of the Congress in the Rajasthan assembly election has left the party shell-shocked. The party felt that over reliance on incumbent chief minister Ashok Gehlot was a mistake.
Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi was left with no choice but to appoint Union minister Sachin Pilot, 36, as the state party president. Pilot is the second youngest PCC president after Ashok Gehlot, who was just 34 when he first became the state party chief.
Sachin Pilot like his late father Rajesh Pilot is an outsider as he belongs to Ghaziabad district in Uttar Pradesh. Rajesh Pilot made Rajasthan his political base and he first contested and won from Bharatpur thriving on Gujjar votes. Then he chose to shift to Dausa which also had high Gujjar presence. He built a strong rapport with Gujjars and the tribal Meena community to establish himself.
Sachin was elected from Dausa in 2004. He was only 26 when he entered the Lok Sabha. Within five years he had to face a new challenge as the Dausa constituency was declared an ST constituency. He then shifted to Ajmer from where he was elected. But in the recent assembly election, the Congress lost all segments here.
Party old timers feel that anointment of Pilot would annoy the Meenas, who are at loggerheads with the Gujjars. However, Pilot worked for peace between the Gujjars and Meenas after violence in Dausa district.
But the senior party leaders are upset with the appointment. Though Gehlot welcomed the appointment, he is himself looking at the political space having been left high and dry after the party's dismal performance. Gehlot enjoys big clout in the party and unless Pilot gets his support he will find it hard to run the show.
Sachin has moulded himself like his late father. Dressed in a kurta-dhoti and often sporting a turban the Wharton Business School graduate, who once worked for BBC and General Motors, spoke to P B Chandra.
At 36, you are the second youngest PCC president after Gehlot. How do you feel about the new assignment?
In Rajasthan, young people have always been in the forefront. The Late Mohan Lal Sukhadia, who was the longest serving chief minister (14 years) became CM at the age of 37. Gehlot Saheb was made PCC president at the age of 34. Thus I too will make my space in the new assignment.
But your appointment brought disappointment to the old guard in the party. How will you cope with them?
In any political organisation, particularly in an outfit like the Congress, it is the collective efforts and strengths that work. I can climb the mountain by holding the hands of the seniors, it’s up to them whether they want to extend their hands to me or not.
Your detractors’ immediate reaction was that the Meenas would drift away from the Congress.
The Meenas loved and respected my father because he served as the binding force between the two communities. I am carrying the legacy of my father and I have worked for peace between the two communities when they were at war because of the follies of the Bharatiya Janata Party government in the state. I can assure you that the Meenas will come back to the Congress fold and strengthen the party.
Have you anytime felt that this assignment was a little premature and you could have done better as a Union minister?
In politics, nothing is written on the wall and it is the time and situation that swings you. I had to join politics when I was pursuing a career as a qualified professional after my father died (in an accident). I helped my mother with the bye-election from Dausa and then was asked by the party to contest and I won in 2004. The challenges never stop like the waves of the sea.
You have been given just three months to do the turnaround. How would you cope with the limited time?
Yes, time is short and Rajasthan is a big state with all its diversity and attributes and cultural differences. But I shall be on job from January 21, the day I take over.