He flies planes, loves being behind the wheel and helped steer the Congress from the depths of defeat in 2013 to the highs of victory in Rajasthan, but on Friday Sachin Pilot had to settle for the co-driver’s seat in the state.
The Congress appointed the older, more experienced Ashok Gehlot as chief minister, following more than two days of discussions with party president Rahul Gandhi and other senior leaders, leaving the job of deputy chief minister to Mr Pilot.
But the urbane politician, equally at home in a village as in the debating room of an English news channel, has more than earned his electoral stripes, say party leaders.
The 41-year-old Stephanian, as those from Delhi’s elite St Stephen’s College are sometimes called, and Wharton MBA graduate had made a vow in 2014 when the party lost in the Lok Sabha elections to not wear a turban he so loved till the Congress returns to power.
And now it seems the ‘saafa’ might well be back on his head, even though the coveted chief minister’s post might have eluded him. Mr Pilot, it is learnt, put up stiff resistance as he staked his own claim for the post.
With 99 seats (plus one of the RLD) in the 200 member house, the win against the BJP may not be as emphatic as the Congress would have wished, but to Mr Pilot goes the credit of ensuring that his party came back to power in Rajasthan by defeating the BJP’s Vasundhara Raje — in keeping with the ‘revolving door’ tradition of voters alternately choosing the BJP and the Congress.
In 2013, when the Congress faced its worst defeat, winning just 21 seats against the BJP’s 163, Rahul Gandhi handed the reins of the state to the next gen leader, a two-time parliamentarian and son of former leader Rajesh Pilot who died in 2000 in a road accident in Dausa.
Mr Pilot, who served as minister in the UPA government in different capacities, accepted the challenge and refocused his attention from national politics to state level challenges.
Starting a new journey in his political career, he travelled for over five lakh kilometres through the length and breadth of the Rajasthan to strengthen the party at the grassroots level and ensure its comeback.
The ‘young gun’ tag may have stuck but Mr Pilot, who has won his seat from Tonk with a margin of more than 54,000, has shown a level of maturity in successfully walking many a tightrope — of his urban and rural avatars, of establishing ground level connect and also reaching out to tech savvy youth, of engaging with grassroots worker but also dealing with the galaxy of party stalwarts in the state.
Known to be affable and approachable, Mr Pilot’s hands-on approach as the state unit chief has won him several supporters both within the party and outside, said Congress workers.
He was elected as MP from his father’s constituency Dausa in 2004 and became the youngest member of the parliament. He was elected again from Ajmer in 2009. Mr Pilot was also the minister of state for communication and IT in 2009 and minister of state (Independent charge) for corporate affairs in 2012.
Mr Pilot, from the Gujjar community, believes Kishangarh Airport in Ajmer is one of his achievements as MP.
Born on September 7, 1977, Mr Pilot did a Bachelors honours degree in English Literature from St. Stephen’s College, going on to work with the Delhi Bureau of the BBC and then the General Motors Corporation.
He completed an MBA from the Wharton Business School (University of Pennsylvania) where he specialised in multinational management and finance. During his tenure as MP, he served as a member of the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Home Affairs, consultative committee in the Ministry of Civil Aviation and also Budget Estimates Committee of Parliament.
The father of two sons and married to National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah’s daughter Sara, Mr Pilot was selected as one of the Young Global Leaders by the World Economic Forum in 2008.
Mr Pilot, who received his private pilot’s licence (PPL) from the US in 1995, is also a keen sportsman and represented Delhi in a number of National Shooting Championships.
He was also commissioned as a lieutenant in the Territorial Army. The man who could well have been a high-level corporate may have to content himself being deputy chief minister. But other challenges await.