Congress leader Sachin Pilot, on a solo campaign in Rajasthan ahead of polls later this year, appeared to confirm his party’s fears by taking aim at his own government and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot today.
Sachin Pilot was campaigning in Nagaur, a stronghold of the Jat community and farmers, when he brought up the recent leak of the general knowledge exam for teachers in Rajasthan.
“Sometimes question papers are leaked, sometimes exams are cancelled…It is very painful and distressing… Children, their parents go through so much trouble for an education. The students toil day-and-night while preparing for their exams,” said the former Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister at a rally.
“I hope the government goes after the big fish instead of the small-time touts,” Mr Pilot said.
The Congress leader’s mass outreach till January 20 has left his party worried about fresh, unwanted spotlight on the unresolved leadership tussle between its two top leaders in Rajasthan.
Sources close to Mr Pilot say his mass contact program is aimed at strengthening the Congress and maintaining his political space in Rajasthan. That is the reason he is focusing on the Jat-farmer heartland, a traditional Congress base, the sources said.
Observers say it is Mr Pilot’s political calculation to stay relevant in Rajasthan politics as state Congress president Govind Singh Dotasara busies himself with grassroots organisation work and the Chief Minister preps for his last budget.
Mr Pilot’s campaign comes weeks after Mr Gehlot, in an explosive interview to NDTV, called his former deputy a “gaddar (traitor)” and said he would not be chief minister.
“A gaddar (traitor) cannot be Chief Minister. 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,” Mr Gehlot had said on his younger rival.
The Gehlot-Pilot standoff began when both competed for the Chief Minister’s job after the Congress’s Rajasthan victory in 2018, and peaked when in 2020, Mr Pilot rebelled along with 20 MLAs supporting him, and camped in Delhi for weeks.
The revolt ended after the Gandhis assured Mr Pilot of changes that never quite materialised, with Mr Gehlot refusing to yield any ground. The dispute has festered without any solution since.
Sources say Sachin Pilot took permission from Rahul Gandhi for this public outreach during Bharat Jodo Yatra to strengthen the party ahead of elections.
Nagaur, where Mr Pilot was speaking today, is the home turf of former BJP ally Hanuman Beniwal’s Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP). Mr Beniwal, quit his alliance with the BJP over the controversial farm law, is believed to have made inroads into the Jat vote bank that has traditionally chosen Congress.