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PoliticsIndiaWhy media is wrong in warning Congress about Sachin Pilot

Why media is wrong in warning Congress about Sachin Pilot

While English language media believes the ability to speak its language makes a great politician, the Hindi counterpart gives caste disproportionate weightage

Rajasthan Congress is reportedly crying for the attention of the party high command again — if media reports for the past 6 h are to be believed. It’s the same old rivalry between Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his former deputy, Sachin Pilot, but the takes are different in English and Hindi news portals. While English language journalists have long been starry-eyed about second-generation politicians who speak their urbane lingo, Hindi language scribes are seeing the Gujjar identity as a decider that the INC high command cannot ignore.

The friction has surfaced again days before the Bharat Jodo Yatra reaches Rajasthan, with a caste quarter pressuring Rahul Gandhi to make a decision in the state. Days after Sachin Pilot openly asked the party to act against MLAs who rebelled against the party in September and supported Ashok Gehlot, a Gujjar community leader has issued an ultimatum.

Gujjar leader Vijay Singh Bainsla said two days ago, “The current Congress government has completed 4 years and a year is left. Now Sachin Pilot should be chief minister. If that happens, you (Rahul Gandhi) are welcome. Otherwise, we will protest.”

Bainsla said on television he had “no option”. The present chief minister is not implementing the agreement made in 2019, he alleged. “We are not threatening anyone, but how long are we going to wait? Why are we moving towards confrontation or confrontation?”

The Gujjar community constitutes 5%-6% of the state’s population and is dominant in more than 40 seats, mainly in eastern Rajasthan. This area includes the districts from where the Bharat Jodo Yatra is scheduled to pass. Releasing a video statement after a meeting with community members, Bainsla said, “Rahul Gandhi should either visit Rajasthan with a Gujjar chief minister announced already or come with an answer on the issue.”

Bainsla said that the community had voted for the INC in 2018 with the hope that a Gujjar would be made chief minister. “We did not vote for the MLA, we voted for a Gujjar chief minister,” he said, accusing the Gehlot government of not fulfilling the promises made to the Gujjar community.

“We had agreements with the government on many issues in 2019 and 2020, but the agreement is not being honoured. It is not that we are threatening to stop the Bharat Jodo Yatra, but it is the Rajasthan government that is forcing us to take this step by not fulfilling our demands,” the caste leader said.

Bainsla had earlier threatened to stop the Bharat Jodo Yatra, reacting to which Rajasthan Congress Committee chief Govind Singh Dotasara had said that no one had the courage to stop the yatra in the state.

The Bharat Jodo Yatra will likely start from Jhalawar on 3 December and cover parts of Jhalawar, Kota, Bundi, Sawaimadhopur, Dausa and Alwar in 20 days.

On 25 November, Suchitra Arya, vice-chairperson of the Rajasthan Agro Industries Board, had batted for the appointment of Sachin Pilot as the chief minister. Before him, Forest Minister Hemaram Chowdhary had said in Barmer that a new face should be given a chance in the coming times. He claimed that Pilot had been instrumental in reviving the Congress in the state and it came to power in 2018.

Why the media assessment is off the mark

Time and again, Gehlot has proved his superior political manoeuvrability in Rajasthan while nobody except the now-discredited Khan Market gang has been excited about Pilot.

An English-speaking dandy, however, hardly catches the fancy of either the Rajasthani electorate or a significant number of colleagues of Pilot within Rajasthan Congress.

Gujjar leaders say that many within the community viewed Pilot as an outsider for a long time, but before the 2018 election, the community decided to support him owing to his promises. “Pilot’s actions have brought a bad name to the community. He has cheated the people of Rajasthan who voted for Congress, including us Gujjars. Had there been no Gujjar agitation in 2007, Pilot’s graph would not have risen as the movement got him national recognition. But he turned out to be thankless. In return, he has tried to reduce the importance of Gujjar leaders by not giving them proper representation in the government and political appointments,” Suresh Gurjar, a Gujjar community leader from Kota, said.

Why his caste does not work to Pilot’s advantage

In July, when Pilot was removed from the post of deputy chief minister, Gujjar leaders in Rajasthan had explained why they were not revolting. His support base among the youth of the Gujjar community and within Rajasthan Congress is not as visible on the ground as it is on social media, where hashtags such as #MaBhiPilot trended after his removal. Gujjar leaders cite three major reasons for the community distancing itself from the political crisis in Rajasthan and also refraining from coming out in Pilot’s support.

“Despite being the deputy chief minister, Sachin Pilot failed to support the community during our agitation demanding most backward classes (MBC) reservation. We had to protest in February 2019, just two months after we helped the Congress come to power. Pilot could not assure community admission to educational institutes and recruitment in state government jobs as per the reservation rules. We are still fighting for the backlog in jobs and recruitments,” Himmat Singh, a Gujjar leader who was at the forefront of Gurjar Aaraksan Sangharsh Samiti said on 20 July.

Further, members of the caste felt sidelined after the delimitation exercise conducted by the Panchayati Raj Department, a ministry portfolio held by Pilot. “Another reason for his growing unpopularity within the community is the delimitation. Being the Panchayat Raj minister, he issued an order to create 1,200 new gram panchayats in November 2019. The panchayats were reorganised in such a way that the ones with the majority from MBC communities were divided into two and hence we were reduced to minorities in those areas. The order was also challenged in the court”, Singh, also the founder of Mihir Army, an organisation that he claims works for the of the Gujjar community, explained.

Shailendra Singh, another Gujjar leader, said the biggest reason for the silence of Gujjars upon Pilot’s removal from two prominent postings is his disconnect with the community members and leaders. “In the 2018 assembly polls, we had voted for the Congress as Sachin ji was leading the party at the time as PCC chief. We collectively protested and pressured the high command of the party to give him a prominent role. We were happy that a leader from our community had become the deputy CM. But things changed after he became the deputy CM. He not only started distancing himself from the community but also at times misbehaved with us,” Singh said. 

Sharing two anecdotes that Singh claimed reflected Pilot’s ‘ill-treatment’ towards the community, Singh told Outlook, “A few months ago, priests from Devnarayan temple in Asind went to meet Pilot at his Jaipur residence. They were not only made to wait for hours but they were asked to return without meeting him. It’s a revered temple for the community but in spite of that they were humiliated.” 

Singh, who is the general secretary of Rajasthan Gujjar Arakshan Sangharsh Samiti, said, “In April, in the middle of the pandemic, a minor from the Gujjar community was allegedly gang-raped in Alwar. All Gujjar leaders went to the victim’s house except Sachin Pilot. The community is disgruntled with him.” According to Singh, the Gujjars, otherwise traditional voters of the BJP, voted for the INC in the 2018 with the expectation that the party would fulfil their demands because Pilot was its face. “However, despite keeping Gujjar rights on top priority in the manifesto, Congress did nothing for us,” he said.

No deal with BJP

If Pilot makes up his mind to switch over to the BJP, as did or Jitin Prasada, only then will he ask his cheerleading fellow Gujjar MLAs to openly revolt as Bharat Jodi Yatra passes through the areas dominated by the caste. Before that, he must strike a deal with the party ruling in New Delhi to secure his position in state or national politics. There is no news of Pilot’s parleys with BJP president JP Nadda or Home Minister Amit Shah, the usual suspects accused of engineering dissent in rival parties. In this scenario, Pilot is unlikely to rebel as of now.

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