There are two and only two kinds of politicians. One is a politician whose power comes from the masses, the other is a politician whose power comes from the party.
The first kind is called a mass leader, the second a darbari.
Darbaris are dispensable, or history dispenses with them anyway. Mass leaders are the real deal. A mass leader can have his or her way within the party, ride roughshod over rivals within the party. That’s how Narendra Modi dispensed with the Delhi Darbar of the BJP in 2013, forcing it to concede to his demand of being officially declared prime ministerial candidate.
Rahul Gandhi has been losing the battle to the old guard of his party because he himself is not a popular mass leader. Rahul Gandhi draws his power from the Congress party, so the party decides how powerful he is going to be.
Despite the decline of the Congress since 2014, there has been no split in the party. That’s because there are very few mass leaders left. Those who are mass leaders, are not doing too badly for themselves, such as Amarinder Singh and Ashok Gehlot.
If you read the fascinating story of how Mamata Banerjee quit the Congress and formed her own party, the difference between darbaris and mass leaders becomes starkly clear. The darbaris within the West Bengal unit of the Congress who were using the party structure to keep Mamata at bay have become footnotes in history. Mamata is the chief minister, without the Congress.
The likes of Mamata Banerjee and Sharad Pawar never felt the need to return to the Congress because they drew their legitimacy from their voters and not the high command.
The young leaders of the Congress party, much like Rahul Gandhi himself, have been disappointing in both their inability and unwillingness to become mass leaders. All they have been doing is waiting for the party leadership to change, for the old guard to leave and have the Congress to themselves.
A notable exception has been Sachin Pilot, who moved to Rajasthan in 2014 and decided to work on the ground. Despite his open rebellion against chief minister Ashok Gehlot and his unseemly assertive demand to be made chief minister in 2018, the Congress party has not been able to marginalise him. He remains deputy-chief minister as well as state Congress chief, a post he has held for six years now. This is because he is positioning himself as a leader with the masses behind him. He is using his voters against his party.
At the same time, Pilot couldn’t get the better of Ashok Gehlot not because Gehlot had the backing of Delhi. In the Rajasthan assembly election, Gehlot was able to show who the bigger mass leader was. It is said that you could go to any village in Rajasthan and find at least one man who will say he personally knows Ashok Gehlot.
Sachin Pilot used to be spoken of in the same breath as Jyotiraditya Scindia. Both come from dynasty and wear arrogance on their sleeve. Arrogance can also be used as strength, to project oneself as a strong leader, for instance. Sachin Pilot is using it to present himself as the wronged underdog.
But arrogance of surname sticks out like a sore thumb. Scindia’s arrogance is about being former royalty — he doesn’t see himself as ‘former’. It’s 2020 and he wants to be maharaja. There was one former royal who went on to become prime minister, Vishwanath Pratap Singh. He did so by giving up his properties and becoming a man of the masses. That’s the kind of sacrifice, risk and courage Jyotiraditya Scindia doesn’t have.
Jaganmohan Reddy was another dynast with an image of arrogance and entitlement. Yet, he worked hard on the ground for two years and ensured a sweeping election victory. Why couldn’t Scindia have done that?
Maharaja and his subjects
Unlike Sachin Pilot, Scindia did not try mass leadership in Madhya Pradesh after 2014. He preferred the five-star Delhi circuit. Among his reasons for quitting the Congress party, Scindia said that the Congress was not what it used to be. Yet, as a prominent face of the Congress, is he also not responsible for the bleak state of the party?
Scindia could not win his traditional family seat of Guna in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. He can blame the Modi wave for it. After all, Rahul Gandhi couldn’t save Amethi either. But in Madhya Pradesh, Kamal Nath was able to save his traditional seat Chhindwara, transferring it to his son Nakul Nath. In Guna, Jyotiraditya Scindia lost to his former aide, Krishna Pal Singh Yadav, who was insulted by Scindia’s wife in the election in classist terms. He played the underdog against the arrogant maharaja and won. Scindia couldn’t keep his own house in order, and now blames the party. Such was his commitment to his party that he travelled to the US for his son’s convocation, happily posting a photo, while the Lok Sabha elections were still going on.
After the results, Scindia was left high and dry. The Congress didn’t give him anything at all. Scindia understandably feared becoming Rahul Gandhi, a man waiting for Lady Luck to shine on him. Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh ganged up to force Scindia into a corner, leaving him with no option but to rebel.
But Scindia had another option: to take to mass politics. He has chosen the easy way out, a business class ticket from Gandhi darbar to Modi darbar.
Today the BJP needs Scindia as a face through whom they can destabilise the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh and make it look like internal rebellion rather than ‘Operation Kamal’. There was a time when the BJP needed a part of Indira Gandhi’s dynasty. In 2004, Maneka and Varun Gandhi joined the party. Today Maneka Gandhi is not even a minister. Varun Gandhi, who comically projected himself as a CM-aspirant in Uttar Pradesh, is out of the headlines.
Understandably, Jyotiraditya Scindia did not want to end up as Rahul Gandhi. He could have become Sachin Pilot. He may get a ministerial berth from the BJP today, but one day they will make him Varun Gandhi.
The author is contributing editor to ThePrint. Views are personal.