Sachin Pilot’s rebellion – that has stirred up a storm in the Rajasthan Congress government – is the culmination of 13 months of drift in the party’s central leadership. The uneasy compromise stuck in 2018 with Ashok Gehlot as chief minister and Pilot as Rajasthan party president and deputy CM has unravelled. A generational change in leadership was long overdue in many states. But the once mighty “high command” no longer enjoys the clout to force the pace of change. Jyotiraditya Scindia’s exit and Pilot’s marginalisation reveal how firmly the old guard have dug their heels in.
Rahul Gandhi’s resignation after the ignominious 2019 Lok Sabha defeat cannot be faulted. But the long indecision over a successor, culminating in the senior crop asking Sonia Gandhi to step in as interim president, was a lost opportunity. The party timidly retreated deeper into its past instead of boldly embracing the future. Amid the disarray, Congress declined to fourth place in Maharashtra and failed to tap sizeable anti-incumbency in Haryana. But far more damaging has been the unrest among younger politicians, who are rudderless under Sonia. It has cost the party Madhya Pradesh and nearly scalped Rajasthan. Pilot’s needless humiliation, including a police notice to join a sedition probe, indeed reveals Gehlot’s scant regard for Sonia’s displeasure.
Instead of persisting with the unwieldy Gehlot-Pilot diarchy in Rajasthan, Congress can use this opportunity to put its house in order, both in Delhi and Jaipur. Pilot is among the few younger netas of calibre to emerge in recent times. If Rahul could get a shot at Congress presidency, Pilot too can be considered for the top post. His experience as Union minister and Rajasthan PCC chief, where he successfully fought BJP, makes him eminently qualified – perhaps far more than the Gandhi siblings whose presence exerts an inertial pull rather than the forward push Congress badly needs now.
Such a move will save Rajasthan for Congress, infuse fresh leadership at the national level, and give the younger generation greater stakes in its future. Long credited for holding Congress together, the Gandhis have consistently failed on this score too with a steady exodus of capable hands. An aversion for hands-on, round-the-clock leadership that the new era of BJP domination demands makes the Gandhis misfits in contemporary politics. Will lumbering Congress wake up before all the young horses bolt?
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.