Just a month after Jyotiraditya Scindia made national headlines, the Gwalior royal family scion has not just vanished from the news cycle, but is dangerously close to becoming nothing more than a fancy acquisition in Home Minister Amit Shah’s wall.
Lesson number one if you choose to jump ship and join Narendra Modi and Amit Shah’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — make yourself politically or electorally useful immediately and work very very hard without self-promotion. Otherwise you will end up being just another trophy in Amit Shah’s grand conquest.
This is precisely what seems to have happened to Jyotiraditya Scindia for now. The ‘maharaja’ can no longer afford to remain seated on his high horse. In the BJP, he will have to work much harder than he ever did in the Congress, be far more grounded and prove he is an asset if he wants a durable and meaningful role. Modi and Shah are ruthless and wouldn’t settle for anything less.
In the past few weeks, Scindia has all but disappeared from the discourse — completely overshadowed in Madhya Pradesh by chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who is running a one-man government. And the big national role that was being ‘readied’ for him, or the berth in the Union cabinet that seemed imminent, isn’t visible yet.
Amid the Covid-19 crisis and Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s overwhelming dominance in Madhya Pradesh, Jyotiraditya Scindia has faded out of the headlines.
BJP’s mantra — prove merit
Jyotiraditya Scindia joined the BJP with what can only be described as a cliche — bang. His welcome at the BJP’s Bhopal headquarters was grand and the event was marked by Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Scindia himself giving impassioned, dramatic speeches.
By highlighting similarities between Chouhan and himself, and how both are grounded leaders with no air conditioners in their cars, Scindia’s aim was clear — to project himself to be as tall a leader in Madhya Pradesh as the four-time CM.
But Scindia is no Chouhan. The CM is popular as a people’s leader with a mass base that hasn’t suffered much dent despite the loss in the December 2018 assembly election.
Scindia perhaps thought he would get his share of meat easily, much like it worked in the Congress. But the BJP is a different party. Nothing comes easy, and most certainly not for imports, more so because of the emphasis on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-connect, which these fresh imports lack.
Jyotiraditya Scindia would do well to learn from his colleague Himanta Biswa Sarma of Assam. A prominent Congress leader, Sarma joined the BJP in 2015 after a very public spat with Rahul Gandhi, and has since quickly risen to be the BJP’s most important leader in the Northeast, and a go-to troubleshooter even otherwise. Sarma has national ambitions, but he has been careful not to let them come in the way of becoming the BJP’s tallest leader in the region — working hard, solving one crisis after another, and ensuring he completely overshadows chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal.
Scindia can also look at Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Pema Khandu, who has been an important figure for the BJP because it lacked any prominent face in the Northeast. Or for that matter Rita Bahuguna Joshi in Uttar Pradesh, who brought administrative experience and understanding of politics when she jumped ship from the Congress. Goa’s Vishvajit Rane, again a Congress import, is popular in the state, has support in the local unit, and brought with him both money and muscle power.
Scindia has to find that niche for himself, figure out what he brings to the BJP’s table and not just what the BJP can give him. Sure, he managed to break the Congress and bring 22 MLAs with him, which helped bring the Kamal Nath government down, despite the party’s best efforts.
But does Amit Shah’s BJP really need a Scindia to topple a government with a slim majority? If the party wants, it can engineer a coup — Karnataka being the biggest example.
It isn’t enough for Jyotiraditya Scindia to be just Jyotiraditya Scindia in the BJP — a brand, an exotic last name and a charismatic, Lutyens’ Delhi favourite. There is no dearth of brands in the BJP today — Narendra Modi being the most popular one the party has ever seen, and Shivraj Singh Chouhan filling in for him in Madhya Pradesh.
Jyotiraditya Scindia has a mass base, no doubt. But is it big enough? Or does it add to what Chouhan already has? No. Scindia, in fact, lost his own election in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. To be fair though, that was more because of Modi’s overwhelming popularity than the lack of Scindia’s. But that also shows his inability to manoeuvre difficult situations in electoral politics. His arch rival Kamal Nath, after all, did manage to ensure his son Nakul won the family bastion Chhindwara, despite the Modi wave.
If he wants to be a BJP leader worth something in Madhya Pradesh, Scindia will have to toil on the ground, build a solid mass base and bring that strategic x-factor to the region.
If he wants a larger role in the Centre, Jyotiraditya Scindia has to earn it — a Union cabinet berth given as a thank you for joining the party can only take him so far, especially given his lack of RSS roots. A suave, English-speaking talking head is not the BJP’s primary concern. After all, Jay Panda switched sides from the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) with just that merit but has hardly reached anywhere in the BJP so far.
Given he has compromised on his ‘secular’ credentials anyway by joining the BJP, and that he hardly stands for any pronounced, marketable ideology now, all that Scindia has at this point is the chance to find a strategic niche within the BJP.
Jyotiraditya Scindia can no longer afford to be just the ‘maharaja’, he has to be a warrior too. Else, the question — ‘where is Jyotiraditya Scindia’ — will continue to linger.
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