Pilot buries the hatchet with Gehlot; says we have to work unitedly, ‘collective leadership only way forward’

New Delhi, Jul 8 (PTI) Congress leader Sachin Pilot made it clear on Saturday that he has buried the hatchet with Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot on the advice of party president Mallikarjun Kharge, saying collective leadership was the “only way” forward going into the assembly polls.

In an exclusive interview with PTI just days after the crucial Rajasthan polls strategy meeting of the party, Pilot said Kharge advised him to “forgive and forget” and move forward. “It was as much an advice as a directive.” “Ashok Gehlot ji is older than me, he has more experience. He has heavy responsibilities on his shoulders. When I was the Rajasthan Congress president, I tried to take everyone along. I think that today he is the Chief Minister (Gehlot), so he is trying to take everyone along.

“If there is a little back and forth, then it is not a big issue because the party and the public are more important than any individual. I also understand this and he also understands it,” the former Rajasthan deputy chief minister said.

Asked about Gehlot calling him names in the past and his criticism of the Gehlot government over inaction on issues such as corruption in the previous Vasundhara Raje government, Pilot said that in a meeting with him, Congress chief Kharge said that time that has gone by will not come back and one has to look at the future.

“He (Kharge) said forgive and forget and look forward and that is applicable to everybody. I believe in that, we now have to move forward and meet new challenges. This country needs the Congress to do well. We need to seek blessings of the people of Rajasthan and in order to do that we have to work unitedly and move forward in a way that is acceptable to the people and to the party workers,” Pilot said.

“So who said what, at which time, there is no point talking about it as it does not mean anything. I have always refrained from using any word or language that I feel is unpleasant or is something that I would not want to hear about myself. In public life and politics, it is always good to maintain certain dignity of discourse,” Pilot said.

“Next challenge for us is to win elections, neither individuals nor statements matter, those are bygones,” he said.

His remarks come after Kharge, former party chief Rahul Gandhi, AICC in-charge for Rajasthan Sukhjinder Randhawa, Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee president Govind Dotasra, he and several MLAs and ministers from the state attended a polls strategy meeting at the AICC headquarters here. Gehlot, who is recovering from injuries to his toes, attended the meeting via video conferencing.

Following the meeting, the Congress on Thursday asserted it can win the Rajasthan assembly elections provided there is unity and warned of strict action against those not maintaining discipline and speaking outside the party forum. The party also indicated that it may not declare a chief ministerial face for the polls due later this year.

Asked about Congress general secretary in-charge organisation KC Venugopal’s remarks that the party never announces the chief ministerial candidate, Pilot said, “I think what Mr Venugopal ji said is not incorrect. Every time we go to polls, it is not an individual that fights elections. So in 2018, I was the state party president and when we fought the elections unitedly we never said X, Y, Z will be the CM face. That is a decision that happens post elections.” Pilot asserted that the Congress government in Rajasthan is not about A B C, but is about the party, and the leadership of the party, national and state leadership, is a collective unit.

“Our performance and policies are not individualistic. They are based on the ideology of the Congress party, the cabinet is there, the CM is there, all of us are there…Victory and loss is not about an individual, it is about a team,” he asserted.

“I don’t want to add anything to what Mr Venugopal said but he is absolutely correct that the Congress party has traditionally never announced any names of individuals who would head the government because ultimately it is a parliamentary democracy where elected MLAs, leadership sit and make a decision as to who will lead the government,” he said.

Pilot stressed that right now the challenge is to buck the anti-incumbency trend that has existed for about 25 years. “It is a cause of concern as to why we form the government and then we lose rather badly in the next polls,” he said.

Pressed further on whether collective leadership was the way to go in Rajasthan, Pilot said, “It is the only way to go.” “I have said earlier, no one individual can actually say or claim that he or she can do the magic of winning elections. It is always a team effort. More than leaders, it is the workers, we have to enthuse the workers, they need to feel committed and involved, and as Rahul Gandhi has said that the party workers must feel involved in decision-making,” he said.

Asked about his concern over anti-incumbency, Pilot said there is anti-incumbency in Rajasthan as there is in other places with every government having a certain amount of unaccomplished work.

“I believe the people understand the intention of our party and government. Every scheme the government has launched has been well received by the people. It is up to us to take those schemes to the grassroots,” he said.

Pilot also batted for winnability being the sole criterion for choosing candidates for the polls and not which faction he or she belongs to.

He also called for younger leaders being encouraged and given a chance to prove their mettle at the hustings.

On what role he would play going forward, Pilot said he has always discharged his duties with utmost dedication in the past and any decision on it taken by the party high command would be acceptable to him.

He, however, added that his heart is in Rajasthan and he has never shied away from saying that.

Pilot also took a jibe at the BJP and alleged that it was grappling with infighting and confusion within its ranks.

“We are on our way to making history. It is quite possible that we will get more seats than we got last time,” he said.

Asked how he looks at AAP making forays into Rajasthan, Pilot said, “I think people understand that their votes are important and every vote counts. So while I don’t want to disregard to brush aside any political challenge that we may face in Rajasthan, but I can say with some confidence that the main contest will be between the Congress and the BJP.” He also stressed that the Congress has to win many more states and then it will have in 2024, a platform of Congress-ruled states which will obviously pay dividends in the Lok Sabha elections.

“In 2018, despite winning the three states (Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan), in Parliament polls, we did not do well at all but those were exceptional circumstances. I don’t want to go into exactly what happened in those elections but that I think is an individual case in point and now people have seen nine years of the NDA government and in most cases the double engine has failed,” Pilot said.

Gehlot and Pilot have been engaged in a power tussle since the Congress formed government in the state in 2018. In 2020, Pilot led a revolt against the Gehlot government after which he was removed from the posts of the party’s state unit president and deputy chief minister.

Last year, an attempt by the high command to effect a leadership change in Rajasthan had failed after Gehlot loyalists dug their heels in and did not allow a legislature party meeting to take place.

Pilot had last month defied a warning from the party and went ahead with a day-long fast targeting Gehlot over his “inaction” on alleged corruption during the previous Raje government.