Beyond reconciliation: Pilot starts hunger strike against Gehlot

The Pilot camp alleges a quid pro quo between CM Ashok Gehlot and his predecessor Vasundhara Raje of the BJP.

New Delhi | Updated: 11 April, 2023 10:29 am IST
Sachin Pilot is credited for Congress' 2018 victory and has been eyeing the chief minister's post for a long time.

Congress has called former Rajasthan deputy CM Sachin Pilot’s day-long fast on Tuesday over corruption in the previous BJP government “anti-party activity”.

Pilot, who has been engaged in an old vs. new generation fight against his former boss – Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot – has announced plans to observe a fast in Jaipur demanding action against alleged corruption that took place under the Vasundhara Raje government of the BJP.

Notably, Pilot’s supporters have accused 71-year-old Gehlot of protecting his predecessor Vasundhara Raje as part of their understanding: not to engage in direct political fights.

Hours ahead of Pilot’s planned fast, Congress’ Rajasthan in-charge Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa said that Pilot (45), who is credited with successfully steering the party’s poll campaign in the 2018 Assembly elections, should discuss his grievances in party forums.

“Sachin Pilot’s day-long fast on Tuesday is against the party interests and is anti-party activity. If there is any issue with his own government, it can be discussed in the party forums instead of in the media and public,” Randhawa said in a statement.

He further said: “I have been an AICC in-charge for the last five months, and Pilot Ji has never discussed this issue with me. I am in touch with him, and I still appeal for calm dialogue since he is an indisputable asset to the Congress party.”

The statement ahead of the crucial assembly polls in the desert state is being seen as an effort to de-escalate the friction between CM Gehlot and Pilot, who has been eyeing the chief minister’s post for a long time.

The Gehlot government has denied Pilot’s allegations of inaction, leading to a public spectacle of the ruling Congress just months away from the assembly election.

After Pilot’s announcement on Sunday, Congress leadership in Delhi said that the Gehlot government has implemented a large number of schemes and taken many new initiatives that have “impacted the people profoundly and that it will seek a renewed mandate from the people on the strength of these landmark achievements and the collective efforts of our organization”.

Pilot’s fast comes close on the heels of several rounds of public meetings in the state.

Relations between Gehlot and Pilot soured after the latter launched a revolt against his boss in 2020 over certain demands, including the chief minister’s post. Unlike other young Congress leaders of his generation, Pilot did not switch to the BJP. The relations have soured so much so that Gehlot called his junior a “traitor” in November last year.

Pilot’s supporters argue that he was assured of action on certain demands that are yet to be fulfilled by the central party leadership. Since then, the Pilot camp has been relatively silent as they worked overtime to consolidate his position in the state unit.

Earlier, he raised issues of atrocities against Dalits under Gehlot’s rule.

In September last year, the Congress’ central leadership wanted to install Pilot as chief minister when it signaled its interests in making Gehlot the party president.

However, Gehlot wanted his own man to be the chief minister if he was to move to Delhi and ensured that he had his way when his supporters thwarted a meeting of the legislature party to authorize Sonia Gandhi to take a call.

Gehlot had also called Pilot a “traitor” for the attempt to unseat him in 2020 with the help of BJP.

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