Towards the end of his second term as a member of Parliament, when Sachin Pilot was appointed president of the Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee, the party had suffered its worst loss in the Assembly elections. From its tally of 102 seats, the Congress was reduced to just 21 MLAs, with most of its cabinet ministers failing to get elected.
Months after Pilot took over as the state chief in January 2014, the BJP won all 25 Lok Sabha seats in Rajasthan, including Ajmer, from where Pilot lost. But four years later, the fortunes of the Congress have changed dramatically, and it has come to power under Pilot’s leadership.
Road ahead for Pilot: work in tandem with all, check infighting
While Ashok Gehlot is considered an old war horse with roots in rural Rajasthan, Pilot has managed to cultivate an image of being a dynamic, tech-savvy leader who is proactive and appeals to young voters. As Deputy CM, sources said, Pilot will face the challenge of working in tandem with CM Gehlot and his men in the party, and at the same time checking infighting ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.
Supporters of Pilot, who was a contender for the post of chief minister, said the 41-year-old initially focused on small targets. “We focused on smaller elections, in panchayats and wards. Pilot would visit families of victims of Dalit atrocities, raise farmers’ issues and consistently corner the government on law and order failures,” said a senior Congress leader from Rajasthan.
The first sign of a resurgent Congress under Pilot came just a few months after the Lok Sabha rout. The party won three Assembly seats in September 2014.
Pilot first became an MP from Dausa in 2004 when he was 26. Dausa was the constituency from where his father Rajesh Pilot was elected to Parliament six times before his death in an accident in 2000. His mother Rama Pilot was also elected from the seat before Pilot contested in 2004.
Pilot was re-elected to the Lok Sabha in 2009 from Ajmer. During the UPA government at the Centre, he held portfolios of Union Minister of State, Communications and Information Technology and Union Minister of State (Independent Charge), Corporate Affairs.
“During the BJP government, Pilot always attacked Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje on her policies, styling himself as the voice of the opposition. This cemented his image as one of the two big leaders in Rajasthan along with Gehlot,” said the Congress leader.
By the time the BJP lost two parliamentary seats and one Assembly seat in the bypolls in February this year, the Congress was on course for revival, and many in the Congress considered Pilot as the architect of this.
Pilot belongs to the Gurjar community, which accounts for 6 per cent of the population in the state. After the election results were announced, the Gurjars were jubilant.
As the Congress deliberated in New Delhi on the new CM, the state witnessed protests by Pilot supporters, including Gurjars. Jat leader Hanuman Beniwal, whose new outfit Rashtriya Loktantrik Party won three seats, declared his support for Pilot in the top post.
Apart from the old guard who have been part of the Gehlot government in the past, Pilot had his detractors among several independent MLAs, who said they would support the Congress only if Gehlot became CM.