The furore over the death of a nine-year-old Dalit boy in Jalore has further exposed the fault lines in the ruling Congress between Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and former deputy CM Sachin Pilot. The Dalit boy, who was beaten up, allegedly for drinking water from a pot meant for his upper-caste teacher, died in an Ahmedabad hospital on August 13.
On Tuesday, Congress leader and former deputy chief minister of Rajasthan Sachin Pilot visited the victim’s family and said cases of atrocities against Dalits were happening “repeatedly” and that “there must be something lacking”.
“In the future, our brothers and sisters from the Dalit-Adivasi community shouldn’t feel that the provisions that we have made for them are weak…Things must be lacking somewhere, that is why such incidents are happening repeatedly,” Pilot told the media in Jodhpur before leaving for Jalore.
He also referred to the case of Jitendra Meghwal, a Dalit from the state’s Pali district, who was killed earlier this year, allegedly for sporting a moustache. The Gehlot government had faced massive criticism over the Pali incident from the Opposition and Dalit outfits.
Pilot was accompanied by his loyalist MLAs Ved Prakash Solanki and Mukesh Bhakar.
“His teacher beat him and he died… what can be sadder than this? We have to send out a message to people from the Dalit community… that we are with them. We won’t be able to achieve this only by making laws and rules, or giving speeches…,” said Pilot, adding that there should be no politics over the issue.
Pilot’s remarks come a day after Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot launched a veiled attack on Pilot over his frequent remarks that pending political appointments should be carried out and that “workers should be respected and honoured”.
“Some of our people… our leaders instigate our workers. ‘Workers should be respected and honoured’… this has become a jumla. Have you ever respected or honoured workers? Do you even know what respect is, honour is? We know… we became leaders from workers because we were honoured and got respect,” Gehlot had said on Monday during an Independence Day programme.
Pilot, who was state Congress president for more than six years between 2014 and 2020, has repeatedly said in the past that Congress workers who helped the party come to power should be honoured and respected and should be made stakeholders in the government.
Later in the day, Pilot took more potshots at Gehlot after meeting the victim’s family members in Jalore.
जालौर जिले के ग्राम सुराणा में कुछ दिन पहले शिक्षक द्वारा बेरहमी से की गई पिटाई से अपने प्राण गंवाने वाले मासूम छात्र स्व. इंद्र कुमार के घर पहुंचकर उसे श्रद्धांजलि अर्पित की एवं परिजनों से मिलकर उन्हें सांत्वना दी।
इस दुख की घड़ी में मेरी संवेदनाएं पीड़ित परिवार के साथ हैं। pic.twitter.com/HExvjiUWB6
— Sachin Pilot (@SachinPilot) August 16, 2022
“It is not enough to say that this happens in other states too. In any state, village or city, if this happens with Dalits and Adivasis… there has to be zero tolerance. We can’t say that since it’s happening in other states, it’s happening here too… If we can’t end that mentality, we are not doing our job,” said Pilot.
Speaking on Sunday on the Jalore case, CM Gehlot had said that such incidents take place in other states too and that he condemns all such incidents. Gehlot had also said that the Rajasthan government takes “swift action” in such cases.
The same day that Pilot visited Jalore, state Congress president Govind Singh Dotasra, considered to be in the Gehlot camp, too, met the victim’s family and announced a compensation of Rs 20 lakh for the family.
Dotasra said the compensation would be given by the Congress party and that Congress president Sonia Gandhi and senior leader Rahul Gandhi have directed the party to ensure that the family gets assistance.
Pilot’s longstanding tussle with CM Gehlot had escalated to a full-blown political crisis in the state which lasted over a month in July-August 2020. Then, Pilot had taken off with 18 of his loyalist MLAs and camped in Delhi and Haryana for over a month even as the Gehlot-led administration filed police cases against some of his loyalist MLAs. The Congress high command had then relieved Pilot of his posts as the state party president and deputy chief minister.
Finally, a truce was brokered between the two warring factions by the Congress high command in August 2020.
In last year’s Cabinet expansion, two of Pilot’s loyalists, who were shunted out of the Gehlot ministry in 2020, were reinstated – a sign that Pilot still holds clout within the party.
The fact that Pilot has established himself as a separate power centre within the Rajasthan Congress is also evident in the fact that despite not holding any official post in the state unit of the party or the government, he continues to draw crowds and is called upon by a section of MLAs in the party.
Even as deputy CM, Pilot had publicly questioned the government headed by Gehlot.
In January 2020, with the Gehlot government on the backfoot over the death of infants at the J K Lone Hospital in Kota, it had blamed the previous BJP government for the mismanagement and faulty infrastructure in the hospital. Pilot had then put the government in a difficult situation by saying that after being in power for more than a year, blaming the previous regime served no purpose and the government response could have been more compassionate and sensitive.
A month later, in February 2020, after the custodial death of a Dalit in Barmer, Pilot had said that atrocities against Dalits were “disappointing” and that apart from administrative action and inquiries, there was a need to make a political statement.