We should've shown more sympathy: Pilot on Kota deaths

When the Kota infant deaths occurred, we could have shown more empathy, sympathy: Sachin Pilot

Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot

The Congress government in Rajasthan has completed a year in power, but it has been a year of challenges – from barely managing to win a simple majority to losing all 25 seats in the Lok Sabha elections months later. Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot, who just completed six years as the state congress president, speaks to DH’s Tabeenah Anjum.  

Q. You are the longest-serving Congress president in Rajasthan. What have been your achievements?

A. In my two decades in politics, the most enriching and satisfying have been these years as the state Congress president. I was fighting for principles, fighting on issues. I am happy and proud that I was able to maintain the dignity of my position all along. The narrative was about people’s issues. It is important in public life not to politicize the personal. When Vasundhara Raje was chief minister, I opposed her tooth-and-nail on issues -- the law to gag the media, farmers’ problems, etc. My opposition (to Raje’s policies) was fierce, and I did hit the streets, but the decorum of opposition was also important. Being in the Opposition those five years helped me create a family larger than my own. Rajasthan has 200 Assembly constituencies and I had the honour and pleasure to visit many times, live in and understand each constituency. It helped me build up a comradeship between our workers and the party (leadership). 

Q. Are you willing to take charge as state party president for a third time?

A. I can’t say! When I took charge as Deputy CM of Rajasthan in December 2018, I was told to continue to head the state Congress. I have always discharged my responsibilities with commitment and honesty and will continue to do that. I took charge in 2013, when Congress had been reduced to just 21 seats in the Assembly, the lowest tally since independence. To rejuvenate the party was like an uphill task, but I decided not to wait until election year to hit the ground. I started taking up people’s issues from the first week. 

Q. You recently said that the Congress’ win in Rajasthan was not due to a single leader. What did you mean?

A. It’s my responsibility to ensure that the people who sweat and bled to bring the party back into power are respected in today’s government. As state party president, I will always continue to speak about people on whose shoulders we stood and reached here. It is not one person, one leader or five leaders, it’s a whole team of thousands of workers who have worked hard. They become the future stakeholders.

Q. How has your one year as Deputy CM been, especially given the three important ministries you are heading?

A. Rajasthan is an agrarian state. Within three months of my taking charge, the number of people participating in MGNREGA activities increased from three lakh to 35 lakh people. And that put money in the hands of the poorest people. As the country is going through an economic slowdown, it is important to ensure that consumption spending increases. If you give a million dollars to a rich person, he or she may deploy that money anywhere in the world, but if you give a few hundred rupees to a poor family, they will spend it on food clothing, school here. Rural development has been our focus, we have got 11,000 panchayats in Rajasthan and every panchayat has been asked to do five development works, and 97% of them have been completed.

There is scope to do better, and we have four years left. As far as farm loan waiver is concerned, we have done it with cooperative banks. Negotiations are on with the scheduled commercial banks and nationalised banks.

Q. There is a lot of resentment and agitation in the country, especially after Citizenship Amendment Act was passed. What is your take on it?

A. It (the agitation) is all over India, and young people are out on the streets. University and college campuses are seeing police action and brutality. It’s a worrying sign for a society when its young people are dissatisfied. With a majority (in parliament), you can pass legislation, but I don’t know if it will pass scrutiny in the Supreme Court. I think the priorities need to change. The priorities should be job creation, to kickstart the economy, agriculture, manufacturing and exports, not this divisive agenda. 

I think they (the Narendra Modi government) should rethink (the CAA) because many state governments are opposing the law. They should either withdraw the law or change it. Just because there is a legislation, it does not mean that there will be no opposition to it. But ultimately, I think the matter will be decided by the Supreme Court. 

Q. Who, according to you, should be the next Congress president? Will you bat for Rahul Gandhi?

A. I think the Congress Working Committee is authorised to say who the new president will be. At present, Sonia Gandhi is the interim president.

Q. When the infant deaths in Kota hit the headlines, you were a critic of your own government. Was it the result of your differences with CM Ashok Gehlot?

A. We are colleagues and we are working together. But our ways of working will be different. When I was state party president, if there were deaths in Rajasthan, I was there to share the sorrows of the people. That cannot change now. If there are deaths, I’ll continue to reach out. Principles are dear to me. Just because I am in government does not mean that I have to change my approach. So, whatever issues I have taken up, there is a logic to it. Like in the recent case of infant deaths, we could have been more sympathetic, showed more empathy.

Q. You said it’s important to fix accountability?

A. As people’s representatives, we have to fix accountability. If you don’t fix accountability, how will you ensure that things get better. Tragedies do happen, but we should not hide behind data because that’s not going to heal the wounds of a mother who lost a child.  The recent panchayat elections were interesting, with both young and old people becoming sarpanches.

The election process is the single biggest festival of our democracy. I wish the Election Commission had conducted the Zila Parishad and Panchayat Samiti elections along with the sarpanch elections. But it’s good to see younger people becoming sarpanches. It is a good sign for the country. 

Q. What reforms are you planning as panchayat minister?

A. In panchayats, we are trying to involve specially-abled people and elderly people, after we added a clause in the NREGS Act in terms of rules. Financial decentralisation, capacity building, sending them to other states to learn best practices are the areas we are working on to make each panchayat strong.