Rediff Navigator News


Capital Buzz

The Rediff Poll

Crystal Ball

Click Here

The Rediff Special


Commentary/Janardan Thakur

Pilot's ambition is to take the shortest route to the country's top job

Rajesh Pilot Rajesh Pilot never lets go a chance to position himself for a top job, whether in the party or in the government. A man of overweening ambitions, he has hardly made any secret of his desire to be not just the Congress president but the country's prime minister as well.

He is only 51, but he does not believe in waiting.

A high-flier who wants to get to the top in a jiffy, Pilot is Michael Korda's archetypal 'climber' or 'expander'. In his book, Power, Korda categorises politicians as the 'ladders' and the 'climbers'.

The former takes a linear and static view of power as if life were a ladder to be climbed one rung at a time; the latter expands outward, ''flowing like a lava,'' stretching their jobs, gradually enveloping enough people and functions so they had to be promoted to regularise their acquisitions.

Expanding represents the surest power game of all. You have to reach out your arms like an amoeba, then fill in the spaces. Watching Pilot's constant itch to expand, one has the uncanny feeling he may have made a close study of Korda's theory of power. Arun Nehru was, of course, the first to come close to Korda's description of climbers' or 'expanders'. He was the first one to hold the high-sounding post of minister for internal security. Remember how he pushed and pulled to get the economic Intelligence units of the finance ministry under his command? Such a weighty player of the power game as Nehru that even The Guardian portrayed him as 'kilos of ambition and confidence.'

Arun Nehru has passed into political limbo, but another has risen in his place: Rajesh Pilot. Like his predecessor, the second minister for internal security was also a man driven by blind ambition. And his ambition is to take the shortest route to the country's top job.

There is of course nothing wrong in a politician aspiring to get to the top. Except, this one is seen as being too pushy. As the home minister under P V Narasimha Rao, Pilot had picked up his first fight with S B Chavan. If Chavan said it was night, Pilot could see the sun rising.

So hell-bent was he on stepping into Arun Nehru's boots that he would settle for nothing less. He seemed to believe, like the 'Big Boss Nehru', that unless one had power over those who wielded real power there was no point in being in politics. "Almost from the moment he was sworn in," said one pen-portrait of Pilot, "he has acted like a man in a tearing hurry."

As the telecommunications minister, he spent his time flying around the country trying to do the home minister's job. When he was finally given that portfolio, he wasted no time in telling the world that S B Chavan, his Cabinet minister, was a "prize idiot."

Rather foolish of Pilot, for India is a country that frowns on blind ambition. Why just India? Pushers are disliked everywhere. Woodrow Wilson once divided politicians who arrived in Washington into two classes -- the ones who grow and the ones who swell. It is the same everywhere, and it can be quite a job keeping these 'swellers' within limits.

When Pilot entered Parliament for the first time in January 1980, his surname roused much curiosity. The surname, it turned out, was a result of a stint in the Indian Air Force. Pilot had been born Rajeshwar Prasad in a village near Ghaziabad. He was young when his father, a former havaldar, died. One of his cousins brought Rajesh to New Delhi to help him with his dairy work.

Every morning he would get up at four, milk the buffaloes and carry the pails to VIP homes. He supplied milk to many of the homes on Akbar Road, little knowing that not many years later he would occupy one of these bungalows himself. It was in 1979 that Pilot joined full-time politics. He resigned from the Air Force collected some supporters and went to Indira Gandhi to seek a Parliament ticket. He got it and has never looked back since then.

As minister for internal security, Pilot perhaps spent more time in the air than he did in the Air Force. He was always spinning around: breakfast in Delhi, brunch in Guwahati, tea in Ahmedabad, dinner in Srinagar and so on and on. Pilot, many thought, was better known for 'shuttling' than for substance. He had certainly been around quite a lot: as observer to the Nagaland elections in 1983, to Assam as one of the negotiators in 1985, to Kashmir in 1986, then to Bodoland, then to Kashmir and then back to Bodoland.

"He is ready to fly off anywhere at the drop of a Gandhi topi," remarked one political commentator. Pilot has always been a man in a hurry, which often results in loss of face. His problem is he does not know where to stop. Close watchers of Pilot reported a special trait of the politician: When the government was going strong, he gave the impression of being its pillar of strength, but when it seemed to totter, Pilot managed to look like a dissident.

Pilot's troubles started after his election to the Congress Working Committee at Tirupati. His name began to be tossed around as Rao's principal trouble-shooter and even as a prime ministerial candidate. With Rao's reputation increasingly under cloud, Pilot became one of his principal gadflies. When Pilot learnt Rao was finally going to clip his wings he turned round with crusading zeal to hit out as close to the old man as he could. What could have been closer than hitting Chandra Swami?

Quite often he came close to mounting a frontal attack on the former prime minister, and yet for one reason or another he developed cold feet at crucial moments, making people wonder how thick was Rao's dossier on him.

In utter frustration some time back, Pilot finally got back to his mooring: the Gandhis. He had been driven to the conclusion that none of the present Congress leaders is capable of reviving the party. Pilot thought the only person who could do it was Sonia Gandhi. There were many others who agreed with him. Right till he left the Congress, Arjun Singh had kept repeating the party badly needed a 'charismatic' leader, and there was none other left except Sonia Gandhi. The enigmatic lady has finally responded, but only partly. The fact that she is not yet willing to lead the party leaves the field open for the parasitic aspirants to the decrepit throne.

Tell us what you think of this column

Janardan Thakur

Home | News | Business | Cricket | Movies | Chat
Travel | Life/Style | Freedom | Infotech

Copyright 1997 Rediff On The Net
All rights reserved