The year was 2004, before the explosion of private news channels, a young boy about 7 years old was watching a show titled ‘Walk The Talk’ on NDTV on a Saturday early afternoon. Not very aware of what watching news meant and why this man named Shekhar Gupta was constantly interrupting the guests, as a child, I had tuned in to watch the show.
I saw two very bright-looking young gentlemen by the names Milind Deora and Sachin Pilot talk about governance and politics at a time when TikTok didn’t exist and talking politics by the youth and kids wasn’t considered ‘cool’. In hindsight, one sees that the Indian National Congress defeated a well-oiled machinery of the BJP and its ambitious campaign of the ‘India’ that only they found shining, by bringing in fresh blood to electoral politics and making the twenty-first century politics relevant to the voices of the twenty-first century.
The Congress made overnight heroes out of foreign-educated, English-speaking, second and third generation legacy politicians at a time when it in itself was just beginning to regain a foothold in Indian politics and restructuring the organisation that had succumbed to ruthless factionalism during the ’90s.
The political crisis in Rajasthan unfolding over the last 36 hours interestingly indicates a strange cusp as would be remembered in the history of the Congress party. This embarrassing moment of reducing the elected representatives of the people into numbers shifting from one possible faction to the other is different from what we have seen in Karnataka or Goa. The Bharatiya Janata Party is not the first in the ‘Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram’ brand of politics in the country. Still, one cannot deny the bloody hands the party command has gone into. Their exclusive experience of only managing mafias and bootlegging syndicates in India’s prominent dry-State has made them adopt a similar approach for toppling University unions.
What happened earlier in the year in Madhya Pradesh and is happening now in Rajasthan are not merely cases in point for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s shameless flexing of money and muscle power in Indian grassroots politics. Not to discredit the blasphemous interpretation of the intellectual might of the great Indian scholar Chanakya by the right-wing incumbent party at the Centre (with an abundance of Asura’s foolish brute force and a tremendous paucity of goddess Saraswati’s blessings of wisdom and knowledge), but it has just barely managed to lend a desperate hand in setting a running car in motion.
The crises in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan are not a result of a failed leadership or factionalism, but a consequence of a bloated sense of entitlement. The increasing claim for a larger share of the pie is what greases the wheel in politics, but the stubbornness in not taking the path as the rest would for a politician only comes from an ecosystem tolerant to the display of divine dispensation. Crisis in leadership is common not just in the Congress but in all of them, “around 1500 political parties in India” (Subhash C. Kashyap).
The tussle for the seat of power between Advani and Modi (despite attempts of revising the truth from everywhere possible) is fresh in every citizen’s mind who voted in the 2014 elections; however, this tussle for power is markedly different. What happened in Madhya Pradesh and is ensuing in Rajasthan does not result from a confused decision of the high-command in December, 2018, but the generosity shown by it setting the wrong expectation for a sense of entitlement earlier in 2002 and 2004, respectively.
One has to look closely to understand why this tussle is different from Advani-Modi, Akhilesh-Shivpal, or Jitan Ram Manjhi-Nitish Kumar. This situation of Rajasthan (and Madhya Pradesh) is unprecedented for the sheer chalk and cheese difference in popularity and experience between both contenders. The only possible parallel to this is the Indira Gandhi-Morarji Desai conflict.
Ashok Gehlot is a grassroots leader who has a demonstrated experience of working in Rajasthan. Given the tendency of the Rajasthan electorate (much like Kerala) that exercises its choice between the available alternatives every successive term, Gehlot is also held responsible for the embarrassing defeat in 2013. On the other hand, Sachin Pilot too has worked his way up to become a youth icon with a largely urban appeal and experience of discharging duties as the MoS for Corporate Affairs and Information Technology in the 15th Lok Sabha. While the Lutyen’s friendly English and Hindi media has always tried to build up a picture of Sachin Pilot going to Rajasthan in 2014 and raising up the party from ashes like a phoenix and later single-handedly leading Congress to victory, the truth is the struggle and resistance to the Vasundhara Raje-Scindia government was a collective effort.
Ashok Gehlot, being a ‘son-of-the-soil’, enjoys an appeal that is difficult for Sachin Pilot to achieve just in a span of six years; therefore, quite obviously did we see a preference for Gehlot in the grassroots while the Lutyen’s media kept crediting Pilot for this victory. Is it not unlikely that a young leader, close to the high-command and having spent most of his active life in politics in the confines of Lutyen’s Delhi, after succumbing to defeat in 2014 from his Lok Sabha Sabha constituency (unlike the prodigal son of Madhya Pradesh), decides to shift base to Rajasthan and single-handedly moves a magic wand that wins Congress back the State in four years? Make no mistake, the Congress’s relevance in Rajasthan is not similar to that of the BJP in Kerala and Bengal or the RLD in Mumbai’s Shivaji Park; the party has fought with all its grit in the state to successfully retain power.
If Sachin Pilot was no second-fiddle in mobilizing the anti-incumbency wave then so wasn’t Ashok Gehlot, and neither was senior Congress leader C.P. Joshi (currently serving as the 15th Speaker of the Rajasthan Legislative assembly). One cannot deny that as many stories of factionalism come out of the Congress party, there is as much room in the party for building consensus and moving forward with collective consultation. Despite having a strong high-command throughout its history, the party never organizes itself with a man holding a whip standing at the Centre. Only a circus and materialization of ruthless ambitions with fake degrees can play out like that. Therefore, to say that choosing Gehlot as the Chief Minister is a blunder by the high-command that it has to pay for, is a claim that holds no ground.
Gehlot has proved that he is a choice of the people and local leaders while Pilot, who was parachuted into the political mess that Rajasthan had become for the Congress, was an emissary of the high-command. The truth is an MP at 26, MoS at 31, Deputy CM at 41 has been given so much on the plate that the appetite and precedent makes him demand for more. This has been a culture of the Congress for which, even in the bougainvillea-covered Akbar Road, it finds no bush to hide. To say in the quintessential disgruntled voice of a Congress sympathizer that the party has no place for young blood also ceases to find a logical substantiation in the situation.
While it is true that the party, on many instances, has shown a tendency toward placating the old first and then making plans for the new; but with legacy politicians, it has been overtly generous in compensating for the cushy corporate jobs on Madison Avenue they leave to alleviate India by contesting elections with bigger pictures of their fathers than themselves. You may vilify or glorify Gehlot, but in no way you can say that he has outlived his scope for serious political ambitions. He is no Motilal Vora; in fact, he is just about four months older than the Prime Minister of the country. While evidence may prove otherwise, theoretically, a Prime Minister’s job requires more physical and mental strength than the Chief Minister’s. The Bhilwara model in the recent past has shown us while the age is the same, who is more equipped for the job; and Gehlot clearly passes this litmus test.
For an overhaul in a party, there is always an organic cleansing that precedes. While most stay, it lays out for all who later in the day is capable to lead. Very clearly, the large-hearted gesture of 2004 is turning out to be a failed gamble. More than setting precedents, what is important is setting straight priorities of our politicians in the public eye. How suddenly amidst the COVID crisis does a one-and-a-half-year old harboured desire becomes crucial or when does a Rajya Sabha seat from a party that very rightly carries out the Suresh Prabhu-treatment with defectors feels more personal, or when does an exclusive endorsement by an industrialist that funds propaganda against one’s party becomes a political masterstroke by another legacy politician, are questions that are very quickly finding answers.
The youth always dreams with a foresight and remains committed to the future that is theirs; does “losing the young brigade” (largely consisting of self-serving leaders suffering from political myopia) really harm the party’s interests? Quite practically, all one knows that it is not an emphatic yes.
My school was on Kasturba Gandhi Marg in New Delhi and had a wall which students climbed out of to bunk school and that wall faced the Rajesh Pilot Marg. Not only the colonial bungalows, but also the story of Rajesh Pilot for no plausible reason, feels very personal to me, passing to and from the road every day from the 2000’s to 2015.
Talking of school, as much the NCERT’s revision is dangerous for the country, the Congress’s revision is crucial for its safe future. Verified sources glorify Rajesh Pilot as the milkman-turned-politician, who at the age of ten, came from his ancestral village of Vaidpura near Noida with his uncle and started tending to cows and cattle with him in New Delhi. He used to stay in an outhouse of 12 GRP Road and deliver milk to politician residents in the vicinity. As fate would have it, the son-of-the-soil later stayed in the same bungalow after rising up the ranks in Indian politics. He too had his share of fallouts like the defeat in internal elections of the Congress party with Sitaram Kesri but handled it like a gentleman, qualities that his son too shows with due diligence.
Legend also has that one hears from old and trusted chauffeurs working for politicians in Delhi that, one day, a young boy landed in Teen Murti with a large canister to deliver milk and was spotted by Chacha Nehru who called him aside. The guardian of the young boy was called, and people working for Nehru arranged for his education. The young boy later went on to become an IAF Pilot who served the country not only in the 1971 Liberation-war, but later went onto become a committed politician whose popularity in Dausa still is unmatched. If Chacha Nehru would have just allocated a large piece of land as a sweet gesture for the boy’s future, would that have produced an invaluable asset to the nation?
One must always hold the hand and take a child in the right direction, even if he is the prodigal son. The right direction is not the appointment or suspension from a post, but to fight one’s battles with maturity and grace. One can just hope that the high-command fulfills its duty of showing the path forward and finds the equilibrium where all have their heads on their shoulders. Whatever be the eventual consequence, the truth is that the Congress party cannot afford to lose power in a major state at this hour; neither can it lose out on a promising and young leader right now.