When Jyotiraditya Scindia announced in March 2020 that he was quitting the Congress, former external affairs minister Natwar Singh said he wasn’t surprised — before adding that Jyotiraditya’s father “Madhavrao Scindia would have been Prime Minister if he had lived.” Perhaps Singh was trying to tell the young leader that he had extreme opportunities in the Congress. Sixteen months later, Jyotiraditya Scindia, a Harvard alumni and a cricket enthusiast, finds he can reach greater heights in the Bharatiya Janata Party, which he had joined a day after resigning from the Congress last year.
Inducted into the Narendra Modi’s Cabinet as India’s new civil aviation minister this Wednesday, a portfolio held by his father in the P.V. Narasimha Rao government in 1991-93, the former Congress leader looks all all set to fly high in the BJP. And that is why Jyotiraditya Scindia is ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.
After joining the BJP on 11 March, Jyotiraditya Scindia spent the next 16 months on the sidelines of political corridors in what was nothing short of a test of patience. At first, he had to prove his electoral worth and political heft by ensuring the victory of his loyalist MLAs who had quit Congress and joined the BJP with him, in the Madhya Pradesh assembly bypolls held in November. He achieved that, helping bring the BJP to power in the state, which it had lost in December 2018.
Later, he secured ministerial positions for his loyalists in the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government, which was no less than fighting a pitched battle. Many BJP leaders from Madhya Pradesh secretly wanted Scindia to fail so that his political chapter in the party could be closed. But Jyotiraditya Scindia had full backing of the chief minister as well as the BJP high command in Delhi — after all, Chouhan needed to save his chair and the party’s central leadership its government in the state.
A promising future
Union Home Minister Amit Shah and other top BJP leaders have repeatedly reminded an ambitious Scindia, who had rebelled against the Congress at the most important stage of his political career overflowing with ambitions, that there is no limit to how high he can fly in the BJP if he stays put. Scindia could look at Dharmendra Pradhan, Piyush Goyal, and Smriti Irani, who are handling key Cabinet portfolios, and those like Himanta Biswa Sarma and Biplab Kumar Deb, who became CMs.
So, the possibilities for Jyotiraditya Scindia in the BJP is unlimited. Being the grandson of the last Maharaja of Gwalior, he already enjoys a substantial support base in the Gwalior-Chambal region. To his credit, Scindia has never let the party feel he is a descendant of the royalty. This is despite the fact that in the corridors of power, from Madhya Pradesh to New Delhi, he is considered no less than a ‘Maharaja’ himself.
Scindia, after taking charge of his new office Thursday, made sure to first meet the BJP’s organisational secretary, B.L. Santhosh, who he knows holds the proverbial needle of power through his access to the real power centre — the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Transition and the road ahead
Jyotiraditya Scindia, a four-term MP, spent 18 years in the Congress party and handled several ministries in the Manmohan Singh government. But it was his role as the minister of state for communications and information technology that established him as someone to look out for — he revived the Indian postal system by setting up integrated centres at post offices across the country. The Modi government’s Common Service Centres, which aim to create access points for service delivery in rural areas, take a cue from Scindia’s initiative that rebranded India Post. Then, during his tenure in the ministry of power, Scindia earned laurels for his CEO-like working style of bringing stakeholders to the negotiating table to find solutions for pending power projects.
BJP leaders say it is this CEO-style working culture that made Scindia a prime contender for the civil aviation minister’s post. Although, the portfolio will be a herculean challenge. Air India is such a stubborn elephant that no minister has been able to move it so far, be it Ashok Gajapathi Raju or Suresh Prabhu in the previous Modi government, or Hardeep Singh Puri in the current administration. India’s aviation sector faced its worst year in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Airlines are still forced to fly at reduced capacity.
Scindia main challenges would be to make successful the government’s airport privatisation plan as well as the UDAN scheme, which is closer to PM Modi’s heart. But Scindia knows that even if he manages to ensure a limited amount of success in the Ministry of Civil Aviation, he can put himself on course to be the front-runner for the post of CM of Madhya Pradesh, which his father could never achieve. After Shivraj Singh Chouhan, leaders like Vishnu Datt Sharma, Kailash Vijayvargiya and Narottam Mishra won’t be much of a challenge for Scindia. He has three years to prepare himself for that role and become one of PM Modi’s close confidants.
In his book The House of Scindias, journalist Rasheed Kidwai has written that after starting the Shatabdi trains as the railway minister in the Rajiv Gandhi Cabinet, Madhavrao Scindia became a hero of the middle class. People used to send gifts like bouquets, perfumes and handkerchiefs at his office in Shastri Bhawan with an inscription saying ‘aam aadmi ke maharaj’ (the king of the common folk). To attain popularity in Madhya Pradesh, Jyotiraditya Scindia can learn not from his political rival mama Shivraj, but from his own father.
Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant Dixit)