Pilot's ambition is to take the shortest route to the country's top job
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
functions so they had to be promoted to regularise their
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
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.
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