Rebellions have a way of coming back to haunt. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s words at a rally in Rajasthan, where he accused the Congress top leadership of taking revenge against Sachin Pilot because of his father standing up to Sonia Gandhi, stung the party. It also brought back memories of those days in the Congress which saw a tussle for the top post. Sachin Pilot’s father Rajesh Pilot is the man who is in focus.
Rajesh Pilot had always had a mind of his own. He was essentially from Ghaziabad but made Rajasthan his political karmabhoomi. And it was Rajiv Gandhi who brought him into active politics and made him a minister. But after Rajiv Gandhi’s death when a tussle broke out and Sitaram Kesri gained control of the party, the fight for the top post also began. Pilot had contested for the president’s post against Kesri in 1998 but lost. But soon a bloodless coup made Sonia Gandhi the party president. However, the presidential elections were due. This was also the time when the Congress was seeing a churning with many like Sharad Pawar and PA Sangma raising the foreign origin issue and eventually leaving the party.
Rajesh Pilot may not have had an easy relationship with Sonia Gandhi and he had a mind of his own, but he refused to leave the party. This reminds one of Sachin Pilot’s so-called rebellion when despite speculation he had refused to join the BJP. In private, he told his people: “It’s my party. I will not leave. Even those who want me to…I will not listen to them. I am a Congressman, it’s my party too.”
It’s the Same reason why Rajesh Pilot decided to fight it out. But he was not one to bend under any pressure and was clear that he would on occasion stand up to Sonia Gandhi. For example, he had opposed any alliance of the Congress with J Jayalalithaa and Lalu Prasad Yadav. Rajesh Pilot was open about his ambitions and he had no qualms in admitting that he could take Sonia Gandhi on, as she had the post “falling in her lap” while he as a senior Congressman had “earned it”. But it’s also a fact that Sonia Gandhi respected him, and often used him as her troubleshooter, given the fact that her husband Rajiv Gandhi had initiated him into active politics.
Interestingly, two men who stood up to Sonia Gandhi were geared up to contest for the top post: Rajesh Pilot and Jitendra Prasada. In Pilot’s case, fate intervened. Just as he was preparing to contest for the post of Congress president and organising a big rally in Jhansi, the farmer leader died in a car accident. It was left to Jitendra Prasada to contest against Sonia Gandhi in 2000 but he lost by over 7,000 votes.
When the Congress-led UPA came to power in 2004, there were some voices that wondered whether Pilot and Prasada’s sons should be given ministerial posts. Sources say Sonia Gandhi was insistent that there should be no bad blood and no animosity. She and her son Rahul Gandhi trusted Jitin Prasada and Sachin Pilot and both were part of Rahul’s coterie and were also made ministers. When Jitin joined the BJP, and Sachin rebelled against Ashok Gehlot, their critics said, “We told you so”. But Sonia refused to budge.
Rajesh Pilot was born Rajeshwar Prasad Bidhuri and sold milk till he rose through the Congress ranks. But his base and heart were as a farmer leader, as also his “garam khoon”, as Kesri dismissed his rebellious streak. It’s this streak, which the father has handed to his son, that the BJP wants to stoke during the polls. Rajesh Pilot is back in the news once again. He once told the media: “Netaon ko khabron mein rehna chahiye. Kisiko humein bhoolne naheen dena chahiye (Politicians should remain in the news. No one should be allowed to forget us). Rajesh Pilot is clearly not forgotten.