Just before the Rajasthan Assembly election results were going to be announced in 2018, a video of Jaipur district Congress president Pratap Singh Khachariyawas went viral on social media. In it, he was heard saying that Ashok Gehlot cannot decide who should be the chief minister and it was a decision to be made by the Congress president (then, it was Rahul Gandhi).
At the time, with exit polls predicting a victory for the Congress, Sachin Pilot was thought to be a front-runner for the CM’s chair. Khachariyawas was counted as Pilot’s right-hand man and an indispensable ally at the time, someone who took the lead in countering leaders from the Gehlot camp.
But the political situation has transformed since then. Gehlot pipped Pilot to the post in the race to be the CM in 2018. The latter had to settle for the deputy CM’s chair and led a short-lived rebellion two years later. This time, the central leadership wanted Pilot to take over from Gehlot as CM had the veteran leader been elected the party’s national president. But the former deputy CM’s dreams and the Congress high command’s wishes ran into opposition from MLAs loyal to Gehlot, among them Pilot’s old ally Khachariyawas who is now the current Cabinet minister for food and civil supplies.
On Sunday, the 53-year-old Khachariyawas was among the most vocal of Gehlot’s supporters. He was among those who skipped a Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting convened by the command, held a parallel meeting of MLAs allied with the CM, and later visited Speaker CP Joshi to submit their resignation.
Speaking to the media, Khachariayawas laid into the Pilot camp, saying, “Democracy is about numerical majority and only that person will be the leader who the MLAs are supporting. On one side, there are 100 MLAs, and on the other hand, there are 10-15 MLAs.”
For those who have followed the minister’s political trajectory, this is not surprising. Though his uncle Bhairon Singh Shekhawat was a founding member of the BJP — he also became Rajasthan CM and the Vice-President of India — Khachariyawas has charted his own course in his political journey.
His ancestral village in Sikar district is called Khachariyawas and is the birthplace of Shekhawat. The minister was active in student politics, raising issues of Rajput pride. He was once accused of glorifying the practice of Sati due to his alleged participation in rallies protesting police action in the case of Roop Kanwar who committed sati in 1987. In 1992, Khachariyawas won the Rajasthan University Students’ Union elections by defeating the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad’s Satish Poonia, who is the Rajasthan BJP president at present. In 2004, Khachariyawas and several other politicians were acquitted of the charge of glorifying sati.
After defeating Poonia in the student elections, Khachariyawas had a long stint in the BJP and the party’s youth wing in the state. As Shekhawat went to Delhi, Khachariyawas became a close aide of Vasundhara Raje, a new face in Rajasthan BJP at the time. But, Khachariyawas jumped ship and joined the Congress in 2004 after the party fielded him from the Jaipur Lok Sabha seat in the Lok Sabha elections that year. He lost the elections but remained in the Congress, becoming an MLA for the first time in 2008 from the Civil Lines seat.
In the party, he is known to be an accessible leader with a pulse on developments on the ground. When Pilot took charge of the Congress state unit in January 2014, Khachariyawas was fresh from losing the 2013 Assembly elections from the Civil Lines seat.
He became one of Pilot’s mainstays and was instrumental in organising several protests against the Raje-led BJP government. After the encounter of gangster Anandpal Singh in 2017, Khachariyawas mobilised the Rajput community against the government and played a key role in convincing a large chunk of the community to vote for the Congress instead of the BJP, traditionally its favourite.
The Pilot loyalist found space in the Gehlot-led Cabinet in 2018 after being elected for the second time and was allotted the transport portfolio.
Khachariyawas won for a second time from Civil Lines.
The change in Khachariyawas’ demeanour towards Pilot first became apparent in July 2020 after the then deputy CM rebelled against the party leadership. Months before, in February 2020, the Rajasthan Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB, which comes under the supervision of the CM, had busted a bribery scam in the transport department, which Khachariyawas headed, and arrested some officials.
While 18 MLAs sided with Pilot during his attempt to get the high command to remove Gehlot and install him as the CM, much to everyone’s surprise Khachariyawas was not among them. Instead, he vociferously defended the Gehlot government and hit out at the BJP and the Pilot camp.
“The history of Pratap Singh Khachariyawas is that of sangharsh, swabhiman and andolan (struggle, self-respect and agitation). When Sachin Pilot ji used to wear knickers, I had already become the president of the Rajasthan University in 1992,” the minister said in 2020 when some on the then deputy CM’s side reminded him that Pilot had helped him become the president of Jaipur Congress and a Cabinet minister.
He is considered a good orator and is often seen in the media commenting on issues such as inflation and achievements of the Gehlot government, and also targets the BJP while talking about his Hindu credentials. In 2019, when BJP MP Diya Kumari claimed that her family had descended from Hindu deity Ram, Khachariyawas was quick to jump in and claim the same. He has also been vocal about the Ayodhya Ram temple.