Updated: November 22, 2021 1:52:54 pm
Former Rajasthan Congress president Sachin Pilot speaks to Deep Mukherjee about the need for greater representation of weaker sections in the state Cabinet, the fact that for almost two years, there was no Dalit face in the state cabinet, and his objective of helping the Congress return to power in the 2023 Assembly elections. Excerpts.
Now that the Rajasthan Cabinet reshuffle has happened, will the 2023 elections be the main focus for you and the Congress?
Rajasthan has always had a history of a Congress government, followed by a BJP government — a tradition of the incumbent government changing every five years. This tradition has to be broken and I think today, our single focus is to make sure that we win the 2023 Assembly elections and the subsequent Lok Sabha elections.
When the Congress party lost the last elections, we were reduced to 21 seats out of 200. I recall that out of the three dozen SC seats, we got zero seats. That means that the SC/ST communities, who are the traditional voters of the Congress, they had abandoned us… We worked really hard to get back that vote bank of weaker sections, Dalits, tribals. Today, I am happy to report that between the 50-odd SC/ ST seats, we have three fourths of those seats, won in 2018.
My feedback to the party leadership has always been that people and those sections of the society who have really worked for the party and supported us should be given representation, a sense of empowerment and participation in governance. A year ago, I had raised some of these issues and I am glad that the leadership has actually taken cognisance of it… I agree there has been a slight delay because of Covid-19, the lockdown and other challenges but I think the leadership is quite aware of what all things we need to do.
This cabinet reshuffle is a very positive step in the right direction which will give us impetus. In the cabinet we didn’t have a Dalit minister for almost two years. Here is a party that stands for Dalit empowerment and we were not able to give it. Things like that were taken into consideration and today we have four (Dalit) ministers. This is like the highest in any government. Representation of tribals, women and minorities has increased which I think is a very positive sign. We need both young and experienced people.
Other things, whether political appointments or the organisational restructuring, all of that need to happen in tandem so that we are well prepared and well ahead of time. We have only 22 months left (before the 2023 elections). We have to focus energy on doing that, fulfilling our manifesto promises and reaching out to the ground to spread our ideology among the masses. To make a comeback in 2023, we must start working now. I think both the government and party are working with that spirit in Rajasthan.
What are the issues you would like to focus on now, when the government is at the cusp of completing three years in power?
I think now people have a lot of expectations. We worked hard to fulfil some of the promises in our manifesto but more than just policy announcements, let us make sure that the resonance of our implementation is on the ground. That’s the real test of a government’s performance, the on-the-ground execution of policy making. We have to work hard on it and we are looking into that. The government and the party working in tandem are always in the best interest of the state and dispensation. We have to fulfil our promises on agrarian issues, youth issues.
Didn’t you want to get back to the cabinet?
I had served in the cabinet as deputy chief minister for a year and a half and have been party president for almost seven years. In fact, I have had one of the longest tenures (as state Congress president) in independent India. Having done both those jobs, I felt that whatever my contribution can be in Rajasthan, you don’t need a position or post to contribute. You connect to the masses, you travel, your interactions and the bond with the workers on the ground are very important to sustain.
That’s what I am doing. As far as I am concerned, I have said it before as well that whatever the party leadership wants me to do as an official assignment, I am happy to do that any time and have been doing it for the last two decades. But my aim, focus and objective is to make sure that we are able to win the 2023 Assembly elections. In the last 30 years, when we had 150 seats, we came down to 50 seats, when we were around 100, we came down to 21 seats. We have to break this cycle.
I have campaigned for the Congress party in every nook and corner of the country and I will continue to do so. But this is my state, I get elected from here. I think I can deliver the maximum here. But whenever the party asked me anything, I have never shied away from the responsibility.
What are your plans for strengthening the party? Will you devote your time to the party now?
Yes, because unless the party gets strong, how can you form the government? A membership drive of our party is presently going on. We will have elections for block and district presidents and some of the people have moved into the government, restructuring of that has to happen. As party president I had always focused on the smaller elections such as the nagar palika, panchayat, mandi, dairy cooperative elections, these are places from where a party can launch itself.
Despite being in the government, we will have to focus on these smaller elections, course correct as we move on because I am sure there are some areas where we need to improve, focus on agrarian issues, and tackle economic challenges post lockdown. The central government’s attitude has been very biased and partisan. Rajasthan itself has many chronic issues such as atrocities against weaker sections, women, tribals which we have to take greater steps to control. But I think the government and the party are focused on making sure that we are able to win the faith of the people.
Have you had discussions with Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot post the cabinet reshuffle?
We have always been in touch with whatever that needs to be done by the AICC, PCC, government or leadership. This cabinet reshuffle is also about not one individual but the feedback was sought from everybody. All the MLAs, leaders, they spoke to (Congress general secretary in-charge for Rajasthan, Ajay) Maken. I gave my feedback. I am sure Ashok Ji was obviously involved in the decision making. All aspects were covered and all feedback and inputs were taken and subsequently we came with this framework.
Do you think the reshuffle could have been done without delay? Some strong statements were made by party leaders from all sides…
There is always scope for improvement but as I say that der se hi lekin durust hona chahiye (better late than never). Even if it’s delayed, it has been done with a lot of comprehensive thoughts given to it… There is no division in the party. I can have an opinion, everybody in the party can give their feedback. We have done that because the leadership always seeks feedback.
There were some issues that I raised because I want the party to win, to repeat it for another term. I want the workers to be given strength and power. We have come to power because of the effort of the people who I have led as party president in the last five years…Not me alone, a whole set of leaders. Those who got beaten, sat on dharnas, went to jail, got cases slapped on them, spent money from their own pocket, did hunger strikes, gheraos, as long as they are not rewarded, as long as they don’t feel that they are part of the system…That is what I was saying.
As I said, SC, ST, women, MBC, Dalits, minorities — we have to take all of them together, which is now reflected in the cabinet expansion.
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