With Sachin Pilot now lost to the Congress, the party notorious for its unwavering commitment to its First Family, the Gandhis, is, atypically, bristling at their leadership, a style of operation that has in three months driven away two bright, young stars – first Jyotiraditya Scindia and now the politician who is credited with resurrecting the party in Rajasthan after it was eviscerated in the state election in 2013.
For once, the Congress is seeing its members openly fault the strategy – if there indeed is one – in handling its talent. On Sunday, former union minister Kapil Sibal tweeted,”Worried for our party. Will we wake up only after the horses have bolted from our stable”. Since then, a host of leaders of different ages are venting their frustration with what they describe as the inexplicably inaccessible Gandhis.
Worried for our party
Will we wake up only after the horses have bolted from our stables ?
— Kapil Sibal (@KapilSibal) July 12, 2020
Unlike in Mr Scindia’s case, Mr Pilot was reportedly phoned by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra; Congress spokesperson RS Surjewla also said this morning that Sonia Gandhi, the party chief, had also reached out to Mr Pilot, urging him to reconsider the moves that were placing him in a daunting confrontation with the party.
Mr Surjewala in his press conference in Jaipur today also emphasized the “close connect” the Gandhis have with Mr Pilot – political gold within the Congress. But the press conference also saw the announcement that Mr Pilot stands dismissed as the Deputy Chief Minister of his home state and as Congress president in Rajasthan. Mr Pilot’s response was limited to a somewhat Zen-like tweet that philosophized, “the truth can be harassed but not defeated.”
There are not many in the Congress who feel that Mr Pilot’s main ask could be substantiated – a promotion to Chief Minister. But there is the distinct complaint that Mr Pilot could have been assuaged earlier – by offering him a clear demarcation of powers from those enjoyed by Mr Gehlot, by in-person meetings with the Gandhis and by an assurance that Mr Gehlot would be ordered to curtail a growing campaign to diminish Mr Pilot’s stature. When Mr Pilot visited Delhi about 10 days ago to warn that he was at break point, he was granted time with senior leaders like Ahmed Patel – but no slot with the Gandhis.
“The leadership has refused to speak or meet me for the last five years despite strongly defending them and working for the party. Imagine the fate of the Congress worker and other leaders of the party,” said a senior Congress leader.
There is also a section of the party that believes that Rahul Gandhi needs to either return as Congress president and take accountability for his decisions – or surrender the ultimate authority he continues to exert on critical matters via his mother, who replaced him as Congress chief when he quit the post after the party’s debacle in the general election last year. Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi, thirsting for direct attacks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are convinced that this strategy distinguishes them from other opposition leaders and are not open to rethinking their approach. Their loyalists dismiss anyone who disagrees as those “in touch with the BJP”.
Mr Scindia quit the Congress in March after veteran Congressmen in his state, Madhya Pradesh, worked to relegate him to a sideshow. The Gandhis did not intervene at that time. When Mr Pilot, on Sunday, made it clear that he will no longer tolerate Mr Gehlot’s tactics to do the same to him, Mr Scindia fist-bumped him on Twitter, posting, “Sad to see my erstwhile colleague Sachin Pilot too, being sidelined and persecuted by Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. Shows that talent and capability find little credence in the Congress”.
— Jyotiraditya M. Scindia (@JM_Scindia) July 12, 2020
Other party leaders have also regretted his treatment.
The conflict with Mr Pilot was inflamed when he was served a notice by the state police for questioning in an investigation to determine if the BJP was making large offers of cash to Congress legislators to switch sides. It provided the last mile in Mr Pilot’s journey to the Out gate. Mr Scindia brought down the Madhya Pradesh government when he opted out of the Congress. The party contends with the prospect of Mr Pilot providing a sequel in Rajasthan. It attests to the growing sinkhole that the Gandhi strategy has turned into. As the Congress tries to compute its losses, all forced errors, the family at its centre has much to explain. In Congress-peak, though, it will probably introspect at most.