It is somewhat ironic that the Congress rifts in the time of coronavirus are being attributed to swine flu. Veteran leader and former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh told reporters Monday that he was unable to contact Jyotiraditya Scindia because the latter had swine flu. Holi is the time to patch up differences. But for the already beleaguered Congress party, it seems to have augured yet another split.
Now we know why. Scindia has resigned from the Congress. He wrote to Sonia Gandhi Monday, and met both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah early Tuesday. Along with Scindia, 14 of his supporters have also tendered their resignation to the speaker of the Madhya Pradesh (MP) Assembly. In a flurry of rapidly unfolding events, the Kamal Nath government in MP has lost its majority.
Nath survived a scare last week when eight of his MLAs were airlifted at midnight to a Gurugram hotel. The Congress had only 114 members, exactly the half-way mark, in the 228-member MP Vidhan Sabha. The BJP, a close second, had 107.
This time the numbers do not favour Kamal Nath. “Operation Kamal” to topple Nath, with its pun on both the name of the current CM and the symbol of the BJP, has well-nigh succeeded this time.
Worse for the Congress, once ruling, now failing party, Scindia’s exit may well be the first in a long line. Some even say that Sachin Pilot is next.
What BJP has to offer
On the night 9 March, 20 cabinet ministers from MP resigned. Six of these, plus another eleven MLAs—seventeen in all—flew to Bengaluru. Loyal to the disgruntled “youth” neta and scion of the Gwalior royal family, Jyotiraditya, they are incommunicado in a private resort in Whitefield. Now they have surfaced, armed with their resignation letters.
And why not? When it comes to Jyotiraditya Scindia, the infighting in the Congress not only nixed his bid for the MP chief ministership, but also cost him his once fail-safe Lok Sabha seat in Guna. What future do relatively young and ambitious leaders like him have in the Congress? With the stranglehold of the Gandhi clan still so firm and the party’s recent rout in Delhi in a series of many electoral setbacks.
But what about the BJP? How welcoming will it be to Jyotiraditya? The whole question hinges on what the bait or reward offered to Scindia is. Right now, a Rajya Sabha seat, with a role at the Centre, seems plausible. The chief ministership of Madhya Pradesh is reserved for Shivraj Singh Chouhan. ‘Mama-ji’, as he is known, Chouhan has been a well-loved and effective CM in MP for three terms. Chouhan is likely to stake his claim any moment now, augmented with the 17 Congress defectors. The ball is in MP Governor Lalji Tandon’s court.
Not out of place in BJP
Returning to Jyotiraditya, he is 49. By the time he is 60, Narendra Modi himself will be 80-years old. The power vacuum at the Centre will need filling. Only leaders in their 40s today will be able to step up to the challenge. So, the additional question that arises is how willing are other leaders in a similar age-bracket as Scindia in the BJP, notably Amit Shah, Devendra Fadnavis, and Yogi Adityanath, the three top names that come to mind, to accommodate him? That remains to be seen. The BJP is not going to be a bed of roses for Scindia.
But people who question whether the BJP culture will suit Jyotiraditya are barking up the wrong tree. The Scindia clan has been divided right down the middle when it comes to political loyalties. Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia was one of the founding members of the BJP after being an important leader of its predecessor, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. Her son, Madhavrao Scindia, went against his own mother. Befriending Rajiv Gandhi, he was quite successful as a Congress leader. But his two sisters, Vasundhara Raje and Yashodhara Raje, remained in the BJP like their mother. The former twice becoming chief minister of Rajasthan and the latter a serving MLA from Shivpuri. There is, therefore, no reason why Jyotiraditya should feel entirely out of place in the BJP.
If Scindia joins the BJP today, it will be on his father’s 75 birth anniversary.
Too high a price
It is too late for the Congress high command to retain Scindia. It would have demanded too high a price of the Gandhis, even forcing them to allow more intra-party democracy. To the extent of requiring Sonia Gandhi to step down as interim president. Kamal Nath cannot be expected to take his ouster lying down either. He was quoted by the news agency ANI as saying, “I won’t let those forces succeed which are creating instability with mafia’s help… which are creating instability in government, a government created by people of Madhya Pradesh.” But now he will not be able to preserve his precious, if precarious, gaddi.
The situation is still fluid. Politics is a game of uncertainty. But the ambitious and determined will stop at nothing to further their ends and achieve their ambitions. Loyalty, morality, and ideology notwithstanding. These come second. Power comes first. Without power, all the rest are only empty words, pious-sounding slogans, watchwords for the foolish and the gullible. If the Congress cannot make it worth its leaders’ while to remain in the party, sooner than later, others of Scindia’s ilk, are also bound to jump ship.
The author is a Professor and Director at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. His Twitter handle is @makrandparanspe. Views are personal.