Becoming the chief minister is not important for any Congress leader in Rajasthan and the top priority remains winning this month’s assembly election, Congress leader Sachin Pilot told News18 in an exclusive interview. He dismissed talks of the lack of a joint campaign by him and CM Ashok Gehlot and instead said that the Bharatiya Janata Party has much to answer for and its top state leader was “sulking”.
News18 accompanied the former deputy CM on his campaign on Monday from Jaipur during which he took on Prime Minister Narendra Modi who said on Sunday that Gehlot and Pilot had only tried “to run each other out” since 2018. Pilot told News18 that the PM should instead talk about the confusion in his party and took a dig at Vasundhara Raje. He said a photo op was not important when it came to the question of a joint campaign. Pilot said that he respected Gehlot who had made “balanced statements” lately. He said it was important for the Congress to win three or four states that are going to polls so that the party is in a position to beat the BJP in 2024. Pilot told News18 that the BJP was running a “negative campaign” in Rajasthan, copying and re-packaging Congress schemes and shifting focus to “mandir-masjid” issues. Edited excerpts:
PM Modi has said that Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot were trying to run each other out for the last five years…
(Laughs) I think he should start talking more about his party—what the BJP is doing and the lack of clarity in the BJP state leadership in Rajasthan. We all know the confusion in their ranks. As far as my party is concerned, we are very clear — we are fighting unitedly and as a team. The BJP is short of issues and it has nothing to tell the people. What has the BJP government in the Centre done for Rajasthan in the last 10 years and what is their roadmap for the next five years? They are just waiting in the hope that because of the natural course in Rajasthan, there will be a change in government and they will gain from history. Unfortunately for them, that is not true. The ground reality is different.
The Congress has performed well in the two states where polling has happened — Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. In Rajasthan also, we will break the trend. From comments of the top leadership of BJP, it is clear that they have very little to offer to the people of Rajasthan, so all they are doing is accusing, alleging, pointing fingers, and unable to tell what they will do for the people of the state.
But what the PM is saying is not entirely untrue; there was friction between you and Ashok Gehlot…
It is completely untrue. There are some issues that I thought were important for the people. I raised those issues, the party took cognisance, made a committee, we took corrective measures, the state government acted, and that is the reason why today we are in a position to say we will come back. Every time we form a government, we never return to power. But this time because of what we have done (me and Gehlot) together, because of the issue of the people of the state that we took up and the government acted on it, we are well placed to beat the anti-incumbency.
It goes to our credit that we were able to debate, discuss, and come up with the best way forward for the party, the government, and the people of Rajasthan. Unfortunately for the BJP, they had a full majority as they had all the MPs from the state but they did nothing for the state. Even now, their campaigning is a negative campaign. They don’t have a blueprint, they don’t have a five-year agenda, they are copying our schemes, and repackaging them. There is a lack of clarity in their leadership in Rajasthan and even the campaign is lacking traction. Why are they getting people from all over the country to campaign here? It is because their state leaders have no traction and connect on the ground. That is the reason.
We have not seen you and Gehlot campaign together; the last time you had the famous motorcycle ride. Will we see such an image again?
We have always campaigned together. Just yesterday (Sunday), Rahul Gandhi and I campaigned together. Mr Kharge, and Priyanka Gandhi..we all are covering different areas of the state. I think if it is just to get a photograph clicked, you are not able to prioritise your resources and time. We have just three days left, so we have campaigned together, we are working as a team, and all issues of leadership, future — everything is being settled.
It is the BJP that is lacking clarity in all aspects — you see a sulking leader in Rajasthan, you see many aspirants in Rajasthan trying to vie for that position, and the campaign is all over the place. People are gauging both the parties and the perceptions.
You mean the sulking leader is Vasundhara Raje?
I am not taking any names, you are taking a name.
There is this perception that only Rahul Gandhi brings you and Gehlot together, not the two of you on your own…
Gehlot has made some very balanced statements, I have also been talking about what we need to do in the future. I keep saying that ‘jo ho gaya, so ho gaya, pehle ki baat ho gayi’. The party has asked me to forget and forgive and move on. That is what we are doing. It is important for the country and important to strengthen the Congress. If the Congress is strengthened, the opposition will be strengthened. The Congress will get stronger if we win state elections. Individuals are not as important as the party. Parties make governments. If the party is not strong, how do you form the government? It is a narrative in the media to pick up things. Look at our agenda and campaign — that should be projected rather than BJP planting stories of ‘yeh ho gaya, woh ho gaya’.
But there is no clarity over the Congress CM’s face in Rajasthan…
As a party, it is always the BJP that announces CM faces and PM faces. We as a party follow a process where the organisation works and gets a mandate and elected MLAs talk to the top leadership and decide who will lead the government. There is no change in our tradition and convention, it is for all states going to the polls. There is no announcement before elections by us, it is the BJP that takes pride in announcing names, why have they not done it this time? You must ask them this question.
If Sachin Pilot only has 20-22 MLAs on his side as in the last five years, how does Sachin Pilot become CM?
Why are you asking me about becoming CM? You should ask me about how to win the election. Becoming CM, PM, etc, is not important for any of us. In the Congress, we all win on the hand symbol. There is no group, faction, or loyalist. Only the media says it, a lot of people derive a lot of pleasure in putting out such numbers and headcounts. We all passed a single-line resolution in 2018 that whatever the leadership decides, we will abide by that. I was one of those MLAs and so was Mr Gehlot. Exactly the same thing will happen in 2023. It is not an issue for us, it may be new for all of you, for us what matters is getting the mandate of the people of Rajasthan and their votes and confidence. We want to break the trend this time.
I asked the CM in an interview and he said how can anyone say he doesn’t love you?
He is right, it is true, how can anyone say it? What we have professionally and personally is between us. And whatever we have to say and talk, we do with our leaders in Delhi.
So do you respect Mr Gehlot?
We are working together. Anyone who is older than me in age, I have always given them utmost respect, whatever the circumstances. No matter what is alleged or said, I have never shown disrespect to anybody. That is the way I have been brought up and I will continue to do that.
The BJP has raised the Kanhaiya Lal killing issue strongly in this election. Also, the issue of Hindutva…
The BJP will try to make those issues but the politics of religion and mandir-masjid, I don’t think people like it. People want to see a development-oriented agenda and delivery of services. Polarisation of votes has its limits and people have seen through that.
Will the Congress’s ‘7 Guarantees’ campaign have an impact?
What we have done in the past, the people have received very well, and what we want to do, they are appreciating. The disparity between rich and poor has grown in the country — that is why the BJP keeps shifting focus to emotive issues, mandir-masjid issues, but I don’t think the young people of India appreciate this.
Don’t you think the events of 2020 and 2022 in Rajasthan have hurt the party?
In politics, we have to look at what is in the interest of the people of the state. We have come up with a positive agenda and we have made sure that we have taken corrective measures so that we can win Rajasthan. It is important for us to win these 3-4 states so that we can be in a position to beat the BJP in 2024.