New Delhi: Two one-liners by the ‘mama’ and the ‘maharaj’ of Madhya Pradesh politics — Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Jyotiraditya Scindia — have got the rumour mill buzzing in Delhi’s political circles.
What did the Madhya Pradesh chief minister want to convey when he portrayed himself as Lord Shiva who swallowed vish or poison after samudra manthan or churning of the ocean — or cabinet expansion, in Chouhan’s case? Was it an expression of helplessness about not having a final say in choosing his team? Or, was it a show of defiance and chutzpah? After all, Lord Shiva had stopped the poison in his throat — the Puranas say his wife Parvati held it in place — not allowing it to harm his body.
The one-liner could, therefore, also be Chouhan’s way of conveying that he might be compelled to swallow poison, but he is far from finished.
Conspiracy theorists among politicians have their own interpretations of Scindia’s “tiger abhi zinda hai” remark, too. The BJP MP played on the title of a 2017 Salman Khan-Katrina Kaif-starrer to get back at his political adversaries. With the Chouhan cabinet dominated by Scindia loyalists — 14 as against the CM’s 12 in the 33-member council of ministers — the maharaj was thumbing his nose at former CM Kamal Nath, who wouldn’t give him any say in his government, and at Digvijaya Singh, who wouldn’t let him realise his chief ministerial dream.
Reading between the lines
Scindia’s former colleagues in the Congress are, however, desperately trying to read between the lines. Was he trying to send out a different message to Rahul Gandhi, his former buddy?
‘Tiger’ in Tiger Zinda Hai was an Indian spy (Salman Khan) who had left the external intelligence agency and the country after falling in love with a Pakistani spy, an enemy. He, however, remained loyal to his country and the agency. He would always leave clues about his whereabouts to the agency. So, when Islamic State terrorists abducted Indian nurses in Iraq, he came on board to help the agency in rescuing them.
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‘Tiger’, in the Scindia context, might have left the agency (Congress) but he would always be available for rescue missions — his ex-colleagues would like to believe. Incidentally, a day before Scindia came up with that one-liner, Rahul Gandhi had a video interaction with four nurses, including three working abroad.
Scindia would be amused by these interpretations, for sure. He is already a Rajya Sabha MP and is set to become a cabinet minister whenever Prime Minister Narendra Modi goes for a revamp of his team. Given the acute dearth of talent in the government, in which ministers seek to impress the PM by making catchy slogans like IT and Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad’s latest “digital strike”, Harvard and Stanford-educated Scindia has the potential to emerge as a shining star.
The chief ministership question
The BJP high command has also been repeatedly signalling its intent to sideline Shivraj Singh Chouhan and promote a new leader. By engineering the downfall of Kamal Nath’s government with Scindia’s help, Chouhan might have earned the chief ministerial chair but even that hasn’t earned him the trust of the BJP high command.
Like the Gandhis of the Congress, Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have been consistently undercutting the BJP’s mass leaders in states — Chouhan in MP, B.S. Yediyurappa in Karnataka, Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan, and Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh, to name a few. That should make Scindia happy, but also wary. Modi and Shah undermining Chouhan doesn’t necessarily make Scindia the BJP’s alternative face in MP. In fact, Modi-Shah’s choice seems to be Narottam Mishra, a Chouhan detractor who has been given the home and health portfolios.
“It’s not that easy. In the Congress, he was always seen as a natural No.3 after Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. In the BJP, he may not even make it to the front row,” a Congress leader close to Scindia told ThePrint.
Many party leaders also don’t buy the argument that because of his lineage — his grandmother was Vijayaraje Scindia, ‘Rajmata’ of Gwalior and stalwart of the BJP’s political predecessor Jana Sangh — he would be accepted by the BJP rank and file and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
“Those times were different,” said a senior Congress functionary from MP. Vijayaraje Scindia had quit the Congress to bring down D.P. Mishra’s government, like her grandson did to the Kamal Nath government 52 years later.
“The Jana Sangh didn’t have anyone of her stature as its brand ambassador then. The Sangh needed her more than she needed it. Modi’s BJP doesn’t need a Scindia to enhance its popular appeal, even though it may induct him for a temporary reason,” said the Congress leader.
Another assessment the leader shared was that the BJP doesn’t like to be seen as promoting a dynast. “Do you think the BJP high command would project someone as its face in MP against whom the party’s rank and file have been fighting all these years? And do you think Chouhan will give up so easily?”
But what’s obvious is that Congress leaders are cut up with Scindia for bringing down its government in MP — that explains why they are spending so much time reading between the lines of what were just one-liners by Scindia and Chouhan.
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