New Delhi: The Indian National Congress has clinched what was being called the “Semi-final” before the state of Rajasthan heads to assembly elections later in the year. Congress candidates Raghu Sharma and Karan Singh Yadav won the Lok Sabha by-elections from Ajmer and Alwar respectively. And with this crucial bypoll win, Rajasthan Congress Committee (RPCC) Chief Sachin Pilot has further cemented his position within the Congress.
When asked if this was a prestige battle for Pilot, Rajasthan Congress Vice-President Gopal Singh Shekhawat said, “Sachin Pilot has worked very hard for these bypolls. He has been in constant touch with the party workers on the ground and built their morale. Congress workers, under the leadership of Sachin Pilot, have gone to each and every village in the two Lok Sabha seats.”
A senior leader in the Rajasthan Congress said Pilot had spent the last few months reworking the caste equations in Ajmer and Alwar. “A few decades ago, Gujjars used to vote for the Congress but had slowly shifted to BJP. But during these bypolls, when they saw Rajesh Pilot’s son come to them, they started shifting to Congress en masse. Sachin has also taken great care to reach out to the Rajput community, which forms a substantial chunk of voters in both places. It’s not just the Padmaavat issue. Rajputs across the state are feeling ignored by the BJP.”
While some leaders want to portray Pilot as the chief architect of the Congress campaign, particularly Ajmer which Pilot represented in the Lok Sabha from 2009 to 2014, other sections of the party are not so keen on placing the crown on Pilot’s young head. Sources indicate that another camp is eager to have former Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot declared the CM candidate months ahead of the polls. A loss in the bypolls would have given Gehlot ammunition with which to approach Congress President Rahul Gandhi and it is something, sources say, Sachin Pilot was mindful of.
“Sachin Pilot is a young, dynamic leader, but he does not have the kind of mass appeal that Gehlot does. Gehlot has decades-old links with workers across Rajasthan’s districts and they will be ready to go to war for him. We may not have won the Gujarat assembly elections but we surely gave the BJP a fight. And Ashok Gehlot was the architect of the victory. Pilot has a lot to learn and I think the Congress can gain from a steady hand in this election. Raje’s popularity is at an all-time low and this is a golden opportunity for us to bounce back,” said another Rajasthan Congress leader.
A source close to Pilot said the 40-year-old is playing his cards cautiously. “He is not desperate to be declared the CM-face of the party. The sole aim is to increase the Congress’s base and win a majority in the upcoming elections. The victory in the bypolls will surely give a fillip to his standing,” the source said.