Rajasthan polls: Sachin Pilot emerges as hotshot campaigner

After CM Ashok Gehlot, Pilot is rapidly becoming the most popular leader in the state, if their demand on the campaign trail is anything to go by

Rahul Gandhi (centre) has played a big role in helping Pilot (right) and Gehlot settle their differences (photo: @SachinPilot/X)
Rahul Gandhi (centre) has played a big role in helping Pilot (right) and Gehlot settle their differences (photo: @SachinPilot/X)

Prakash Bhandari

Giving the lie to many naysayers and those speculating about internal tensions between the key leadership candidates in Rajasthan, chief minister Ashok Gehlot shared a campaign video of former deputy Sachin Pilot.

When Congress MP Rahul Gandhi posed with Gehlot and Pilot on 16 November in Jaipur, he too was sending out a clear message that the party was united and would sweep the state assembly elections. 

After Gehlot, Pilot is rapidly emerging as the most popular leader in the state, if their demand on the campaign trail is anything to go by. Indeed, even in the midst of electioneering in Rajasthan, Pilot also found time to campaign for the party in Madhya Pradesh.

Still relatively young at 46, and possessed of considerable personal charm, Pilot appears to be attracting younger voters in particular with his oratory. But this is not a new phenomenon, because he did this for the 2018 assembly elections too.

This time, the Wharton graduate is going all out to ensure that the party retains power. While the BJP has been publicising Pilot's differences with Gehlot, the former's actions are seen to be countering the claim that he and the CM still do not see eye to eye.

At a recent election meeting in Dausa, the constituency from which Pilot's late father Rajesh Pilot was elected to the Lok Sabha, Rahul Gandhi held up the hands of both Gehlot and Pilot in full view of the large crowd, showing their solidarity with the party.

This single act has proved to be something of a game changer, because ever since, Pilot has swung into action in earnest, and has particularly focused on eastern Rajasthan, where he has a large following. Pilot’s aggressive campaign in eastern Rajasthan and several districts in the Ajmer division, including  Tonk from where he is contesting, has boosted the chances of a Congress victory.

Pilot also has the support of the Meena community, as did his father. The community of agriculturists is listed as a Scheduled Tribe, and the Gujjars and Meenas are a potent factor in eastern Rajasthan, a deciding factor for at least 45 assembly seats.

Himself a Gujjar, Pilot is seen as the best-known community leader in the country. Classified as OBCs (other backward classes) in Rajasthan, Gujjars are also essentially pastoral people who practice animal husbandry. Granted reservation in jobs after a bloody agitation, they are spread across Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, while the Bakharwal Gujjars enjoy tribal status in Jammu & Kashmir.

In Rajasthan, there are some 32 seats where the Gujjar influence is considerable, mostly in eastern Rajasthan. Among them are Sawai Madhopur, Tonk, Bharatpur, Dholpur, Alwar, Dausa, Jaipur and the Hadoti regions of western Rajasthan like Bundi Kota, Jhalawar and Baran districts.

In 2018, the Gujjars largely voted for the Congress. Pilot was state Congress president and had toiled for five long years to pull off the win. Not a single Gujjar candidate was elected to the assembly from the BJP, though the Gujjars form nearly seven per cent of the state's population.

This time, Gehlot and Pilot appear to have sunk their differences in the interests of the party, and electoral success. Gehlot who not only runs the government but also the party’s organisation, has ensured that all of Pilot’s loyalists get election tickets, barring a few.

“The party gave nominations to all candidates who were recommended by Sachin Pilot. They have been nominated and now they have to win and help the party retain power,” Gehlot has said.

Pilot is once again contesting from Tonk, which has a sizeable Gujjar population. The only Muslim principality in erstwhile Rajputana, Tonk has some 2.70 lakh voters, of which some 47,000 are Muslim. In 2018, the BJP fielded former transport minister and two-time MLA Yunus Khan from Tonk, but Khan lost to Pilot by almost 54,000 votes.

This story was updated with additional information on 24 November.

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