New Delhi: On Tuesday, April 11, Congress leader Sachin Pilot sat under the banner of M.K. Gandhi in Jaipur, with no party symbol or any senior leader’s picture near him. His supporters were out in full force, raising slogans demanding that the top leadership of the party declare Pilot as the chief minister of the state. However, none of the MLAs from the Pliot’s camp were seen during the protest.
Pilot, the former deputy chief minister of Rajasthan, sat on a hunger strike accompanied by thousands of his followers to demand his party’s own government, headed by Ashok Gehlot, to investigate cases against former chief minister Vasundhara Raje. The stated objective of Pilot’s protest was to hold the Gehlot government accountable for the commitments made and to ensure transparency.
He also demanded that a probe be launched against former Indian Premier League commissioner, Lalit Modi, who has been accused of financial irregularities, including money laundering and tax evasion.
The former chief minister particularly stressed the need to investigate into 2015 mining scam that rocked the state when BJP’s Vasundhara Raje was the chief minister. There are allegations that the Raje government had allotted 653 mines to bidders without following proper procedure, causing a loss of Rs 45,000 crore to the state exchequer. Although a principal secretary (mines) was arrested in the case, Pilot alleged that the trail led to the doorstep of the chief minister. The hunger strike, Pilot said, was aimed at bringing attention to the issue, and also to highlight the fact that no investigation has been ordered so far.
Speaking to The Wire, a senior lawyer in Rajasthan high court, A.K. Jain, said, “A PIL [public interest litigation] was filed in the Rajasthan high court when the BJP was in power, alleging that the allocation of 653 mines had caused a loss of Rs 45,000 crore to the state exchequer. After that, the state government canceled the allocation of mines and conducted a fresh auction. However, the case went to the Supreme Court. The apex court upheld the high court’s decision.”
On Lalit Modi’s involvement in the matter, Jain said all related legal matters have already been resolved in courts. “I don’t know what investigation Pilot wants from the chief minister in this matter,” he wondered.
The Wire also spoke to Ram Singh Kaswan, who was the main party to the PIL filed in the high court against the mining scam. “The Rajasthan high court had dismissed our PIL back in 2015 after that Raje government dismissed all allotted mines. This is what we were demanding in the court,” said Kaswan, who is currently serving as the points person for Rajasthan Congress in Delhi at the All India Congress Committee headquarters.
Later, Kaswan also went to the apex court, where he (Congressmen) demanded the court to order a CBI inquiry into the matter but the apex court also upheld the high court’s decision.
So, when both the high court and the Supreme Court have refused to entertain the PIL, questions are being asked why is Pilot protesting now?
To this, Ram Singh said, “I have no idea about it. He was then the state PCC [Pradesh Congress Committee chief]. I recall telling him to become a party in the PIL, but he refused to do so, saying that he has a family relation with Raje and he does not want to get involved in the case.”
He instead advised Pilot to speak about the issue internally, in the party forums. “I have no idea why he is bringing up this matter now since Supreme Court has already decided on it. So, there is no point in bringing up these old matters.”
Leaders close to the Gehlot camp declined to comment on the matter, citing instructions from the top leadership to remain silent. Despite the lack of support from within his own party, Pilot’s hunger strike and demands have sparked off a debate on the emerging political situation in the state, and in particular, about the Congress party leadership in the state.
In a telephonic conversation with The Wire, Hanuman Beniwal, a prominent Jat leader, expressed his desire that Pilot to float a new political party, and said that his party would be willing to extend support to Pilot.
Beniwal’s Rashtriya Loktantrik Party currently holds three seats in the state and enjoys significant support from the Jat community. He also recently met with Arvind Kejriwal and Bhagwant Mann, leading to speculation that his party could merge with AAP, which is set to contest all 200 seats in the upcoming Rajasthan elections.
Speaking about the Congress party, he said the party does not have any future, and Pilot must consider quitting it. Beniwal’s comments reflect the growing rift within the Congress party and the possibility of a new political alignment in Rajasthan.
“Ashok Gehlot supports Vasundhara Raje’s scam for five years, and then Vasundhara supports Gehlot. These two are eating into funds of Rajasthan for decades.”
Story so far
In 2013, the Congress government under Ashok Gehlot suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of the BJP led by Vasundhara Raje. The Congress party won a mere 21 seats, its lowest number to date, while the BJP won a historic landslide by securing 163 seats and forming the government in Rajasthan.
Following the defeat, the Congress party’s high command appointed Pilot as the party’s state in January 2014. Pilot was seen as a young and dynamic leader who could potentially reinvigorate the party in Rajasthan, which had been struggling to gain a foothold in state politics.
His appointment was also viewed as an attempt to balance the influence of Gehlot, who had been a dominant figure in Rajasthan’s politics for many years. The young Pilot quickly established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the state’s politics and became a key player in the Congress party’s strategy for the 2018 Rajasthan assembly elections.
Pilot launched a vociferous campaign against the then BJP government, opposing changes brought in the Rajasthan history textbooks and a scam that cost the state exchequer of Rs 45,000 crore.
During the COVID-19 pandemic and nationwide lockdown in 2020, Sachin Pilot – who served as deputy chief minister – left the state along with his loyal MLAs and relocated to a hotel in Manesar. The move sparked a high-profile drama in the state that lasted for several days.
In response to the situation, chief minister Gehlot issued a statement referring to Pilot as a “Nikamma” and a BJP member. Gehlot also announced that all of Pilot’s portfolios would be taken away.
The event brought a wave of political turmoil to Rajasthan, as the once-close allies engaged in a bitter feud. Ultimately, the conflict resulted in Pilot’s removal from his post and a reshuffling of the state government.
The Congress party’s Udaipur Chintan Shivir in May 2022 saw the introduction of a one-person-one post principle as part of a wider set of organisational reforms aimed at bringing younger leaders into key positions. However, recent events in Rajasthan have caused tension within the party.
In September 2023, the Pilot camp was initially elated when senior Congress leaders proposed Gehlot as the next Congress President. However, the mood soured when 90 loyalists to Gehlot, who wanted to keep both his positions as chief minister and party president, submitted their resignations to C.P. Joshi, speaker of the Rajasthan Assembly. Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh during the Bharat Jodo Yatra said the party had worked out a plan for Rajasthan and would soon present it before the people. Reading into it, many said that the statement indicated a possible change of guard in the state.
Pilot, in an address to the media on April 9, announced his intention to go on a day-long fast on April 11 to demand action against corruption during the previous BJP rule in Rajasthan. He criticised Gehlot’s government for failing to investigate alleged corruption cases during the BJP’s tenure and said he had sent letters to Gehlot on the issue but received no response.
However, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, AICC in-charge in Rajasthan, criticised Pilot for not discussing the issue with him first and urged him to resolve any issues within the party forum. Randhawa emphasised the importance of supporting the party’s interests and not protesting against its own government.
Following his day-long hunger strike, Pilot spoke to the media on April 11, reiterating his call for action against the BJP and expressing his disappointment at Gehlot’s lack of response to his letters. With only six to seven months left before the next election, Pilot emphasised the need to deliver on the promises made to the people of Rajasthan. So far, Vasundhara Raje has not spoken about this Pilot’s hunger strike.