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How Pilot was trapped in the Chakravyuh

By PRAKASH BHANDARI
August 11, 2020 13:53 IST
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By Monday morning, a dozen dissidents were ready to leave the Pilot camp.
Having found a hole at the bottom of his boat, Pilot, with dwindling numbers, in sheer desperation, connected with Priyanka Gandhi, reveals Prakash Bhandari.

Sachin Pilot

IMAGE: Dissident Congress leader Sachin Pilot.
 

The Congress high command, keeping the interest of the party and the Rajasthan government as the paramount considerations, forced a rapprochement on the dissidents led by Sachin Pilot.

The high-level meeting, of Sachin Pilot with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, ended with Pilot agreeing to a truce that will ensure the Ashok Gehlot government's safety.

The 32-day drama of uncertainty that shrouded the Gehlot government ended with no threat to the Rajasthan government. The ruling Congress will comfortably face the assembly session beginning from August 14 with 122 votes in hand in the 200-member House.

The truce initiated between the Gandhis has many riders and Sonia Gandhi, the interim Congress president has kept the key with herself by stating that a three-member committee will be formed to resolve Pilot's grievances. The former deputy chief minister's differences with Chief Minister Gehlot had led to his dissension.

Political pundits say the culture of forming a committee to keep the issue hanging is an old trick of the Nehru_Gandhi family. Such committees in the past have always been an eyewash.

If Sonia Gandhi, who announced the decision to form a committee, was serious she would have announced the names of the committee members.

Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi observed the political crisis in Jaipur from a distance with their trusted Congress General Secretary K C Venugopal briefing them on the developments on a day-to-day basis.

Venugopal found that the Gehlot government enjoyed the support of 102 MLAs which was enough to tide over the political tsunami, but he was not sure of the Gehlot government's victory in the floor test in the Rajasthan assembly.

While efforts were being made by both sides for a compromise, Pilot found that the Gehlot camp was successful in making six of the 19 Congress dissidents including veteran Bhanwar Lal Sharma switch loyalties.

Sharma -- who once almost toppled Bhairon Singh Shekhawat's Bharatiya Janata Party government while the BJP leader had traveled to the United States for heart surgery -- was the first to come out from the Sachin camp.

After Pilot's rebellion, Sharma was suspended by the party along with another minister Vishvendra Singh.

Sharma realised that Pilot had failed to get the required number of Congress MLAs required to topple the Gehlot government.

By Monday, August 10, morning, a dozen dissidents were ready to leave the Pilot camp.

Having found a hole at the bottom of his boat, Pilot, with dwindling numbers, in sheer desperation, connected with Priyanka Gandhi. The story after that is known by all by now.

Pilot has been a loser all through. He aimed at the highest office in the state too early. Though he was able to gather a small number of dissidents in his fold, he was unable to add new dissidents to this group.

The BJP, which Gehlot alleged was backing Pilot, would have backed him if he had at least 35 MLAs with him. But this number -- even after 32 days of the high-voltage political drama -- remained a distant dream.

On the other hand, Gehlot was able to keep the flock of 102 MLAs together with him. These 102 MLAs were Gehlot's strength and any poaching by the Pilot group would have resulted in the fall of the Congress government.

Gehlot managed to keep his flock together by personally attending to them and giving sops to the constituencies they came from.

Under the grand arrangement authored by Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, the Congress may effect a change in the party organisation in Rajasthan, but without changing Pradesh Congress Committee president Govind Singh Dotasara who was appointed after Pilot was stripped of his deputy chief ministership and also sacked as PCC chief.

Under the fresh organisational set up those who sided with Pilot will be left out of the PCC. Gehlot may recall two sacked ministers -- Vishvendra Singh and Ramesh Meena -- and give a few ministerial berths to other dissidents.

Accommodating all the 19 dissidents would be difficult for Gehlot. Moreover, if the 19 dissidents were accommodated, this would upset the loyalists who supported and helped Gehlot save his government.

Gehlot should be grateful to the Gandhis who made him chief minister despite Pilot's claims that he had worked hard for five years to bring back the Congress to power in Rajasthan.

Gehlot should be doubly grateful as the Gandhis also bailed out his government. Saving the Rajasthan government was important for the Gandhis as the Congress now only rules Punjab and Chhattisgarh.

Has Gehlot emerged stronger? It is a difficult question to answer, but Gehlot has lost sizeable clout in the party and is a weaker leader now.

The threat from Pilot has paved the way for a culture of dissidence within the party and keeping a balance will be a real tightrope walk for Gehlot.

Gehlot does not believe in sharing power and his attitude projects him as authoritarian. He will have to change his style of governance, else a few more Pilots will emerge in the next three-and-a-half years of rule.

Gehlot is likely to face problems within two or three months when the voices of dissent against him rise. Now on, Gehlot can rule with caution and not aggression, and with the support of the Gandhis.

During the entire crisis, the BJP's towering leader Vasundhara Raje kept silent. This allowed some lesser BJP leaders to begin aspiring for the chief ministership. Vasundhara Raje remains the tallest leader in the BJP and the party has understood her importance. She was against extending any support to Pilot to topple his party's government and this helped Gehlot a great deal.

After Vasundhara came into the picture, the BJP had to witness fissures in its camp, forcing the party to send 18 of its MLAs into hiding fearing Gehlot's poaching.

This was enough sign for Pilot that he was encircled like Abhimanyu and there was no way out of the Chakravyuh.


Prakash Bhandari is a veteran political commentator based in Jaipur.

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