Sachin Pilot, 41, galvanised the Congress in Rajasthan after the party’s embarrassing defeats in the 2013 assembly and 2014 Lok Sabha polls in the state. Pilot, who could be the next chief minister, tells Archis Mohan the future Congress government in the state will take steps to address agrarian distress and joblessness within its first 100-days.
The BJP is reaching out to beneficiaries of central and state government schemes. Do you think the strategy could tilt the balance in its favour in the polls?
In the name of so-called beneficiaries, the Rajasthan government is spending taxpayers’ money get them to attend public meetings of political parties. This goes against the grain of our democracy. How can you spend government money for political campaigning? The High Court curtailed (Chief Minister) Vasundhara ji’s ‘gaurav yatra’ for this reason.
Who is a beneficiary? The government is doing its job and not any favour by providing someone a pension or a scholarship. Why should you (the BJP) cull out the names of these people and term them “beneficiaries” to try reach out to them with a samvad karyakram, or outreach programme. It is when people are unwilling to come to listen to you; you are using taxpayers’ money and other pretexts to collect crowds.
Secondly, I think the real beneficiaries of the BJP rule are not the ones being collected in parade grounds. The real beneficiaries are the Vijay Mallyas, the Lalit Modis and the Nirav Modis of the world who have really benefited and gained from the BJP rule. They should be summoned form London and have a meeting.
What is your assessment of Raje government’s performance?
The Raje government won a historic mandate in 2013 by winning 163 of the 200 assembly seats. I think she squandered that mandate. She betrayed the trust of the people in every area of governance – industrial development, agriculture output, GDP growth, law and order, solar energy and power sector. The transmission and distribution losses in Rajasthan because of power theft is at an all-time high.
Core sectors of manufacturing, mining, textiles, and large-scale capital-intensive industries have suffered because of macro policies of GST and demonetisation, but also the inspector raj in the state. The atmosphere you need for investments and to create jobs was absolutely lacking.
What would be the future Congress government’s priorities in the first 100 days?
Agrarian crisis is the biggest issue facing us today. The first thing we need to do once we form the government is to take care of farm distress. Besides the issue of farm loans, it is also providing easy access to credit, to markets, ensuring procurement on minimum support prices (MSP), manure, electricity, irrigation, etc.
Second big issue is joblessness. Young educated boys and girls are not only unemployed but also underemployed. We need to create an atmosphere where people are able to generate employment. The government is giving out fake numbers of jobs. The Raje government has claimed it promised 1.5 million jobs, but we delivered 4.4 million. Now that means in every constituency 22,000 people got jobs. Then they very cleverly said it is not jobs, but we are creating employment. I am not sure how they have made the distinction. In any case, I urge the CM why not she publish the names of the lucky millions of people in the newspaper, so I can also call them and wish them good luck for getting a job. It is all white lies.
You are one of the younger leaders of the Congress who have worked hard to rebuild the party. Is it not time that younger leaders such as yourself should also get leadership roles in government?
Five years back, I was asked to become the Congress party’s Rajasthan state unit president. It was a challenging time. We had only won 21 out of 200-seats in 2013, and lost power in the state and subsequently at the Centre. We lost badly. Those were daunting times and I remember, starting out five years ago, rebuilding this party brick by brick, certain blood was required. It was a collaborative effort. I spent the last five years travelling across the state to raise issues of the people. We also focused on local bodies elections, which form the bedrock of our democracy.
There have been 22 assembly by-polls in Rajasthan in the last five years. We won 20 of them. Out of 200-seats, we won 21 in 2013, and of 22 by-polls, we won 20, so we have performed very well. We have given a strong opposition. Now what happens in the future, I do not know. It depends on the elected legislators, and the Congress party on who gets what position to work in. I feel reasonably satisfied in getting the Congress to what I call within striking distance of forming the next government.
It seemed from your press conference in Delhi earlier this month that you did not want to contest.
All of us had left that decision to the Congress president (Rahul Gandhi). It was for him to decide if all of us should contest or not, and from which constituency. In my case, I worked five years here (as the party’s state unit chief). I was an MP before that for two terms and where I should contest the MLA election, that decision was Mr. Gandhi’s.
It is good that now all leaders are contesting because one must lead from the front and be on the battleground, and whether I should contest or not that decision was taken in Delhi. Mr. Gandhi squarely asked me and said you have to contest. I said surely. I was asked to become party president five years back and I packed my bags and moved to Jaipur, so there is no question of ifs and buts, and whatever party decides that is final.
How badly do you think the emergence of Jat leader Hanuman Beniwal, who has launched his own party, would hit the Congress? How are you reaching out to the Jat community?
Beniwal has been a BJP legislator in the past and he has now formed his own party. Rajasthan has been a bipolar state. Smaller parties will play a marginal role, only in some states.
I think the farming community in particular has seen the working of the BJP. More than any individual leaders (like Beniwal), the farming community as a whole is looking at the Congress party because we are coming up with a clear roadmap for the farming community.
Has the mess in ticket distribution cost the Congress 15-20 seats?
People can see the Congress is coming to power. Therefore, the clamour for getting tickers is much more, instead of four or five we had 20 claimants on each seat. It was a time for us to listen patiently to all aspirants and come to a consensus. When a party worked is denied ticket, he faces anger from his supporters and there are few days of heartburn. But every Congress worker wants the party to win. The BJP is facing infighting after 40-50 sitting legislators, including ministers, were denied tickets.
There have been reports that ticket distribution had the stamp of Ashok Gehlot.
All party tickets given out, I consider them all my tickets. There is no question of this group that. We reached a broad consensus in each our party meetings to decide ticket distribution.
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