Sachin Pilot’s second coming: Rajasthan


Sachin Pilot wears many hats. One of the Congress’s mass leaders, he looks as comfortable in TV studios as he is among a crowd of villagers in remotest parts of Rajasthan.

On the cusp of taking the reins from Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot now, Sachin, 45, had waited for this moment for nearly a decade. After indicating his preference to keep both the Congress president’s post and the chief ministership, Gehlot seems to have yielded to the party high command, which is said to be keen on ensuring Pilot’s elevation as the CM.

In the 2013 Rajasthan Assembly elections, the then Gehlot-led ruling Congress was decimated, plunging to just 21 seats in the 200-member House – its worst performance ever. In January 2014, the All India Congress Committee (AICC) leadership appointed Pilot as the Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee (RPCC) president.

In the 2018 Assembly polls, when the Congress managed to hit the halfway mark, bagging 100 seats, it was widely attributed to Pilot’s leadership and hard work. However, the AICC leadership decided to hand over the CM mantle to Gehlot, in a move that upset Pilot, who was appointed as the Deputy CM.

The son of former Union minister late Rajesh Pilot and ex-Congress MP Rama Pilot, Pilot studied from some renowned institutions in India and abroad. Currently, he is also a captain in the Territorial Army.

Rajesh Pilot’s sudden death in a road accident in 2000 pushed Sachin to take a plunge into politics. Pilot Senior used to represent the Dausa Lok Sabha seat and after his death, his wife Rama became the MP from there during 2001-2004.

Sachin contested his first election from Dausa in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections and won the seat. At 26 then, he was the country’s youngest MP. The same year, he also married Sara, the daughter of Jammu and Kashmir CM Farooq Abdullah. Sachin and Sara have two sons.

Pilot’s political rise was meteoric. When he won his second term as the Lok Sabha MP in 2009, he was appointed as the Union minister of state, communications and information technology, a position he held till October 2012. The then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appointed him as Union minister of state (independent charge), corporate affairs, when he rejigged his ministry later.

Sliding rapidly, the Congress however started losing polls across the country and was routed in the 2014 general elections in the face of a massive Narendra Modi wave.

Setting his sights high, Pilot however went all out to prove his mettle in the rough and tumble of Rajasthan politics after taking charge as the state Congress chief. It paid off in the 2018 state polls with the party ousting the Vasundhara Raje-led BJP from power.

Pilot had hoped to clinch the CM’s chair but the party opted to go with Gehlot. A more experienced Gehlot, who hails from the OBC Mali community, was apparently perceived as a “better option” for the party as compared to Pilot, a Gujjar.

The friction between Gehlot and Pilot surfaced in the 2018 polls, first over distribution of party tickets, then over the post of CM once the party won, and then over selection of ministers and portfolio allocation.

The 2019 LS Sabha elections, where the Cogress drew a blank out of 25 seats in Rajasthan, only made things worse for Pilot and Gehlot. Gehlot’s son Vaibhav lost his election from Jodhpur following which Pilot and Gehlot traded barbs openly. Gehlot held Pilot responsible for Vaibhav’s loss.

Their simmering tussle came to a boil in 2020 when Pilot rebelled against CM Gehlot with 18 other Congress MLAs. However, Gehlot got the better of Pilot, getting him jettisoned as the minister and the state party chief. He also fired Pilot’s loyalists from his ministry.

Subsequently, Pilot adopted a low-profile, but did not let his chief ministerial ambition get diminished, pitching for leadership position for young leaders in the grand old party.

For the last three decades, Rajasthan has had the BJP and Congress governments alternately, and for 24 of those years, Gehlot and Vasundhara Raje have taken turns to be the CM.

Pilot had sought to become the CM at least two years before the state goes to polls in late 2023, hoping that it would give him time to leave a mark on the state governance on the basis of which he could then seek public mandate in the next polls. However, it seems he may now have to settle for a year on this score.