Sachin Pilot on big Priyanka Gandhi role in Rajasthan truce deal

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Underlining that his rebellion was never “anti-party” but merely a means to articulate the happenings in the state, former Rajasthan deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot said he has no animosity or ill will against state chief minister Ashok Gehlot. On being asked how he would respond to the “nikamma” jibe by the CM, the young leader merely laughed it off at first. Then added that he was “deeply hurt by some of the language used against me”. Asked how would he greet the CM given the bitterness when he meets him on 14th, Pilot said he has nothing but kind words to offer.

In a wide-ranging interview with HT’s Sunetra Choudhury, a day after a peace deal was struck with the party high command that promised to look into all his grievances, Sachin Pilot revealed the role played by party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi.

Here are the edited excerpts from the interview:

Q. What have the last 30 days been like for you?

About 3-4 weeks ago, I was served a notice under sedition charges. As deputy chief minister and party president, I felt it was unwarranted. A lot of us were deeply hurt by that and a few of our colleagues wanted to come to Delhi to tell the party organisation not just about the one issue, but also about many things we had been contemplating for long. Once that started, a lot of other developments happened, but I think ultimately the objective of the exercise we did was to bring the grassroots feedback to the leadership. We were well within our rights to raise the issue within the party forum and from day one we said that we were raising the issue as Congressmen, as legislators. I don’t think anything we did was at all anti-party.

Q. You say it wasn’t anti-party but a lot of Congress leaders who were supporting you later said that you could have done it without going incommunicado with 18MLAs.

The minute we came to Delhi to air our views, the next day itself a lot of acrimonious action started in Jaipur, a lot of FIRs, police cases. A lot of our colleagues felt they would be at the end of a lot of coercive action by the police and the administration. I want to place on record that we were here in Delhi, wanting to place our views and wanting to be heard. I think the reactions that came out from Jaipur and the actions that followed, it didn’t give any confidence to the legislators that we are moving in the right direction. As far as the opposition party is concerned, trying to take advantage of what is going on, they have done some politics. We had made ourselves very clear from the beginning that there was no question of leaving the party or joining any other party. I know there was a lot of speculation and stories. I came here as deputy CM and the party thought it right to remove me from this position, which is fine. Because the CM can choose his cabinet. But I wasn’t even critical of the government, but the working style, the functioning, the governance style of the chief minister - which needed altering as we have elections three years later.

Q. Let’s go back to the sequence of events on July 10. You came to alert the party and the events overtook what happened. Couldn’t you have spoken to the Gandhis then like you did yesterday?

There are people in different hierarchies responsible for the communication within the party leadership in Delhi and Rajasthan. Those channels didn’t work out very well as we all know in hindsight. Because the actions were being taken very quickly in Jaipur, between the notices and court cases and suspensions, it just came to pass that we had to do what we had to do. Because if we didn’t fight and stand up for what we believed in, we wouldn’t be here today. I think at the right time everyone decided to talk and I’m very happy that the Congress president has now assured all of us that a time-bound roadmap is being evolved to redress all the issues that were raised.

Q. So when you were incommunicado, what was the objective in your head?

First of all, all of us were here in Delhi and were never incommunicado, we were talking to people, we were moving around. I met a lot of colleagues and it was not as if anyone was bound anywhere. But yes, some of my colleagues felt apprehensive of the police. That’s why all this lockjam came about. The kinds of things that were said while we were here making our grievances heard, it wasn’t charitable, to say the least.

Q. When your former boss was saying that you are nothing but a good looking face, that your qualifications were just that you spoke English and otherwise you were “nikamma”, “nakkara”, at that time did you think of an option? That maybe you need to look at another party?

No, no, not for a moment. But I have to admit when I heard some of the language used against me, it did deeply hurt me. I felt I was wronged and aggrieved and then to hear the things that I heard. To say the least, it wasn’t charitable. And was unparliamentary, of course. But two wrongs don’t make a right, I’m not going to retort in the same tone and tenor. It’s unbecoming of people in public life to take the level of discourse to a point where people think it’s unbecoming. I chose not to respond. There’s no place for name-calling, it has to be issue based. Even the harshest critic wouldn’t have used some of the language that was used. I swallowed that bitter pill and it was the best thing to do at the time.

Q. But they say that they have evidence that the BJP was in touch with you. What would you say about that?

I have heard this for a long time but it’s very easy to make allegations. Our actions, our words are commitment are unwavering but it suits some people’s objectives to plant stories, to see a narrative where none exists.

Q. But throughout this time the Congress said that their door was open so what made you talk to them on Monday and not before?

How is it possible? I know that everyone was saying but actions were totally opposite. That doesn’t seem to be in harmony. A lot of our colleagues who were ministers were now police suspects. Those actions were also a major aspect of what went on in the past few weeks.

Q. Would you care to share the role Priyanka Gandhi Vadra played in the entire episode, she was in touch with you throughout?

She did come last night when all the MLAs were there and she had a long detailed discussion with every single one of them. We appreciated her taking time out and as a general secretary of the party, she’s played a role. I met Rahulji and Priyanka Gandhi yesterday in Mr Gandhi’s house and as then party president, it was Rahul Gandhi who said to me that I should work as deputy CM as we left the choice of CM to the party president. He chose Mr Gehlot as chief minister and he did lean on me to become as deputy and continue as party president. But in the last 18 months what has transpired, it was important to say those things. I had to share, because it was important for the party to know. Sadly, it went on for too long.

Q. Can you elaborate what went on?

I don’t think I should in the media. Whatever I had to say, I told the party leadership and they’ve formed a committee. That committee will take a decision in a time-bound fashion on our grievances - broadly governance, leadership issues, participation, space to workers and MLAs.

Q. The CM said in the 18 months since the Rajasthan government was formed, he’s never spoken with you. Is that true?

I didn’t say that, the CM has said that. But it gives you an insight of what was happening there. When I was party president for five years, I didn’t seem to have those disqualifications and negativities attached to me. Just in the 18 months, they have come to the fore. Bringing a party back to power when we were 21 MLAs and elections were lost when Ashokji was CM. At that time, Rahul Gandhiji asked me to be CM and he showed faith in me. I, even though I was younger than other other leaders, it was my responsibility to take everyone along. There were differences even then but as head of the family, I left no stone unturned to carry everyone under one umbrella. I think the same course for the head of the government. If someone has a grievance, you have to resolve that. You can’t sort of do the things that have happened in the recent past. When he says we haven’t spoken, it sums it up for you but I have never shown any disrespect to CM Ashok Gehlot. He is much older than I am in age and I have regards for him as a person. But I am well within my rights to point out things in terms of governance.

Q. But for those who say it was CM Gehlot who held the numbers and Sachin Pilot couldn’t get the numbers together?

It was never a competition about who’s got more. Whoever the party makes CM, will have the majority. The number of MLAs and leaders who had things to say were depending on me to be their voice. I did that. Ashok Gehlot was made CM by the party and I accepted that decision when I became deputy CM. But the events of that 18 months carry some meaning and that’s what I wanted to convey.

Q. Was it too much of a price that you paid? Thirty days later, you are no longer the deputy CM or PCC chief? Do you regret it?

If you are taking a position just to have a house and a car, I don’t think it’s worth anyone’s time as a political person. You are there to do a job, to do governance, to deliver development, and if you don’t have the space and the resources and the authority to do that, then mere positions don’t matter. I have said that whatever the party wants me to do, I am happy to do it, I have done it for more than 20 years and leadership can decide what my role can or cannot be.

Q. What will you tell the CM when you meet him on the 14th?

I have nothing but kind words to offer to him and warmth at a personal level. Professionally, our objectives should remain the same which is to deliver to the expectations of the people of Rajasthan. I have no animosity, no ill-will, no negative sentiment towards him.

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