Ashok Gehlot is done holding his peace. In an exclusive interview with NDTV, the Chief Minister of Rajasthan took time out from campaigning along with Rahul Gandhi in Gujarat to deliver his biggest takedown yet of Sachin Pilot, who he referred to six times in the conversation as ‘traitor’.
“A gaddar (traitor) cannot be Chief Minister,” he said, “the High Command cannot make Sachin Pilot the Chief Minister… a man who doesn’t have 10 MLAs. Who revolted. He betrayed the party, (he) is a traitor.”
He was perfectly inclined to elaborate. “It must be a first for India that a party president tried to bring down his own government,” he said of Pilot’s ill-famed revolt in 2020, a revolt which, Gehlot said, without offering any evidence, “was funded by the BJP” and enabled by senior BJP leaders including Amit Shah.
At the time, Pilot, who had by then served about two years as Deputy Chief Minister, decamped to a five-star resort near Delhi with a posse of 19 MLAs. It was a direct dare to the Congress: either he be promoted to Chief Minister, or he would walk out of the Congress, causing the party to split in one of the few states it controlled (the count has declined substantially since then).
But the dare, for all its journeying to the national capital, had no legs. Pilot, 45, was easily bested by Gehlot, 26 years his senior, who convened his own show of strength, also at a five-star resort, with a headcount of more than 100 MLAs. There was no competition, as it turned out.
Pilot, having failed, had to accept the repercussions. A reconciliation with the Congress was brokered; as penalty, he was removed as president of the Congress in his home state, a role that allows significant influence over cadre; he was also sacked as Deputy Chief Minister.
When asked to reflect on the root cause of his problems with Pilot, the Chief Minister said he’s at a loss. In fact, he claimed, in 2009, when the UPA was elected for a second term, it was he who recommended that the junior politician be made a union minister.
The fundamental issue, as far as Pilot is concerned, is that the Congress had, upon winning Rajasthan in 2018, vowed that the job of Chief Minister would be rotated between him and Gehlot with the latter getting first dibs. Pilot says he has been sidelined consistently by Gehlot, who he says, at one time tapped the phones of his supporters, to choke them politically.
Gehlot says he has never understood the oft-stated charge by Pilot of “sidelining him”. He also says it is a fallacy that Mr Pilot was promised an equal term as Chief Minister. “The question does not arise. But if he (Pilot) still says it, then ask Rahul Gandhi (if this condition was ever established).”