Two things are emerging from the Rajasthan crisis. One obviously that Ashok Gehlot has usurped the narrative and he looks in control. But there is a second and more serious impact for the Congress. A little away from Jaipur, Delhi looks weak while the regional satraps seem to have become stronger.
After a dozen calls from senior Congress leaders and a few from the Gandhis, Sachin Pilot is still the rebel. His rebellion may not have made him stronger, but it has made the Gandhis look weaker. There is no denying the fact that unlike in previous cases like Scindia's, this time the Gandhis stood up for Sachin Pilot. The party was told to be a “little soft” in its press conferences. Through the day, the Gandhis would call up senior leaders tracking the developments in Jaipur and ask "what's the latest?”
But as time has passed and some “serious” evidence has been given to the Gandhis that there indeed was a bid to topple the government and Pilot had a role behind it, the hands of the family are now tied. They have little choice now but to distance themselves from Pilot and the dissident MLAs.
Sources close the Gandhis say, “An ideal situation would have been not to let Sachin Pilot go. He could always be in Delhi and take charge of states where we have potential but are weak. But he is not keen and now even we are finding it difficult to accommodate him.” If there is one thing that Sonia Gandhi cannot forgive, it is betrayal. There have been questions raised over her alliance with the DMK (who were believed to have gone soft on Rajiv Gandhi's killers) or even Sharad Pawar who attacked her over her foreign origin. But she was ready to forgive them as the larger goal was to keep the BJP away. Where money allegations come up, however, Sonia Gandhi is reticent. Natwar Singh and now Sachin Pilot are prime examples. She is believed to have said that enough is enough.
But while reasons for this final distancing from Pilot may be grave, it also throws up the fact that the Gandhis don’t always have their way. When there seemed a possibility that Pilot would be given an opportunity to come back at the central level, we saw some strong comments from Gehlot who even called Sachin Pilot "nikamma". Those who know Gehlot say this is not his style. He is shrewd and firm but is careful with his words. So Gehlot's choice of words has a reason behind it.
He clearly wants to ensure that Pilot’s wings are completely clipped and the break with the Gandhis is complete so that he never has a chance to return. In this, a few other Congress leaders also have had a role to play. Some conveyed to the Gandhis that Pilot was not to be trusted and that bringing him back at the Centre would set a bad precedent. It would give the signal that one can breach all boundaries and get away with it. And there would always be the trust deficit. Sachin Pilot would constantly have to give an agni pariksha.
The Gandhis had a choice of Pilot on the one hand and the rest of the organisation on the other. It seems the Gandhis may end up dumping Pilot for the sake of the party. But this also reflects the fact that they have been unable to help their own.
Another case in point is that of Navjot Singh Sidhu. It's an open secret that he was roped in and chosen by Priyanka Vadra. Sidhu with his aggressive style and huge popularity was seen as an asset. But soon the scuffle with chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh began. Then also the Gandhis were made to choose. And then again for the sake of keeping the government intact and Amarinder happy, Sidhu was dumped. This feeling of not being supported by the top leadership is something which Jyotiraditya Scindia and Priyanka Chaturvedi have been vocal about.
There's a famous quote by one of America’s biggest businessman Arnold Glasgow: “One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency." That’s perhaps where the Gandhis have gone wrong. With the timing.