The story begins a couple of months ago. A list was being drawn up of who could be the new faces of general secretaries when the Congress goes in for an organisational reshuffle. One name which was ‘pushed’ was that of Sachin Pilot. When Pilot got whiff of it, he resisted strongly making it clear that Rajasthan is where he would want to be. “I have walked the roads and streets of the states for over four years and won't give it away for a shift to Delhi.”
The reshuffle never happened but the fear factor remained for Pilot and he knew it had to be sooner than later. Not that, Gehlot and his camp were unaware that Pilot may 'strike' soon. So their preparations too began.
The advantage Gehlot has, apart from his experience, is that he has the backing of the seniors and people who matter. To those who argue that he didn’t deliver in Lok Sabha polls, the counter argument is that only he can keep the government afloat. The enemy was also the BJP, and if anyone can fight them with experience, it's only Gehlot.
As Congress began to lose out in big and influential states, the top leadership understood that priority was to protect the states they were already in power in. Loss of Madhya Pradesh got the party jittery and Gehlot, despite the many complaints against him, carried on.
It's been on both the sides. But first to Pilot's. It's been difficult for him to get over the tag of being a Delhi politician, who made the transition to Jaipur. The charges against him still stick — that he has a group of buddy media who don’t have an idea of politics and caste combinations of Rajasthan; that Pilot has no connect with the powerful old guard who still know how to survive. The latest crisis is a prime example.
A leader told News18, "I was surprised to know when I told him to speak to a very senior leader close to Sonia Gandhi to sort his concerns with Gehlot, he told me he knows no one who can speak to him or will give him audience." A mistake made by many young leaders with ambitions is they never learn that the structure of the Congress party is such that even if you had direct access to the Gandhis, even they would not encourage frequent call-ins to hear out issues.
An astute leader would balance both. The old powerful guard and have an easy access to the Gandhis. “The style of working of the Gandhis is such they work on constant feedback and for good or worse, they often fall back on this,” said the leader.
All that Pilot had to do when the notice was served to him by the Special Operations Group (SOG) was to pick up the phone, speak to the powerful central leaders instead of dashing to Delhi and parking himself at a resort in Haryana; he should have waited it out and played his cards patiently. The fact that Pilot had access to Priyanka Gandhi directly, who called him many times was a trump card Pilot could have used. But the more he dug his heels in, the fewer options he is now left with.
As for Gehlot, for now he looks the winner. But the impression and message for the many young and impatient leaders in the party is clear: You cannot mess with experience and the clout of seniors in Delhi. His incident has also brought back the charge of nepotism in the party. The Pilot camp makes allegations that Gehlot wants to keep him away as he wants to warm the seat for his son Vaibhav in future despite that he lost in Lok Sabha polls.
WHAT FOR THE PARTY AT CENTRE
The desert storm has had the maximum impact on Congress and its future. First in a change of style, Congress undid the mistake it made in earlier cases like Jyotiraditya Scindia and Himanta biswa Sarma. The Gandhis did get directly involved.
Priyanka called Pilot many times and heard him out. But the Gandhis were caught between the need to save the government, which Gehlot is the only one who can do now, and also send message that while talent and age needs to be protected party discipline cannot be stretched. The more Pilot refused to talk, the more the untenable the solution became.
"Pilot rubbished (Randeep) Surejwala, Avinash Pande asking who they are? But didn’t he realise they were only carrying messages of the Gandhis?" the leader asked.
Two interesting developments: One, the seniors are back in the saddle. The impression being pushed that they didn’t stop the young but the young and restless pushed the envelope too far. Two, a conscious effort will be made to promote other young leaders who are seen as grassroot leaders.
Hardik Patel's appointment as acting president of Gujarat Congress is one such sign. Those who are likely to get huge promotions are a new breed like Manickma Tagore, Srinivas, Ajay Lallu and many others. And finally the new hashtag, which is being pushed actively #myleaderrahulgandhi. It's clear that the party now wants to project Rahul Gandhi as someone who wants to give everyone a chance.