Jyotiraditya Scindia: View: Jyotiraditya Scindia’s exit highlights the utter rudderlessness in Congress

While deciding on his most important career switch, Jyotiraditya Scindia was possibly guided by Mark Twain’s advice, ‘Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.’ But it is unlikely that BJP leaders acted like the ‘really great’ and made him believe that he, too, ‘can become great’. Space at the top in BJP, after all, is as limited and reserved for a few, as it is differently in Congress.

Life in BJP for Scindia will undoubtedly be different from what it used to be when he was the ‘only chap’ who could walk into Rahul Gandhi’s house any time. Not many — and this includes those groomed in RSS — will welcome the feudal culture that surrounds him. But by possibly accepting Rajya Sabha nomination immediately after joining the party, Scindia has scaled down his ambition, accepted to be part of the brigade of what the late Arun Jaitley called ‘unelectable’ leaders, and limited himself to a possible berth in the Union ministry.

Scindia’s ‘ghar wapsi’ — homecoming — as labelled by former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, is, however, less about what the future holds for him, and more about settling scores. While some of his grievances have substance — he certainly should have been involved more in Congress party affairs after he lost out in the chief ministerial race in MP and not coldshouldered — a part of his annoyance is misplaced.

Scindia was always low on mass support and high on profile, stemming from his sense of entitlement. The third generation political dynast, in fact, brings little to the BJP table besides acute embarrassment for the Congress leadership, chiefly Sonia Gandhi and son Rahul.

Loose Shunted

But this episode is not about Scindia per se. It highlights the utter rudderlessness in Congress since the party’s defeat in the May 2019 Lok Sabha elections. This defection of a high-profile leader to BJP also underscores the capacity of the party leadership to overcome challenges in the most unexpected of ways. Beset with multiple crises since mid-December — anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) protests, Delhi riots, the resulting international fallout due to the two issues, a sputtering economy —overnight BJP secured legitimisation of its politics from a former member of Rahul Gandhi’s inner circle. There were speculations immediately after Scindia’s public meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi about other ‘younger’ Congress leaders also jumping ship. This reflects the crisis Congress is gripped with. In recent days, several leaders publicly called for settling the leadership issue and giving the party urgently needed organisational and ideological impetus. Such criticism of the leadership is unprecedented in Congress, and unless Sonia and Rahul Gandhi act at the earliest, the party will decline further.

There are two conflicting signs that emanate from the top. First, that Sonia Gandhi is merely an interim president till the family thinks that it is time for Rahul to have a go once again as party president. Second, that on several crucial matters, mother and son have differences. This second viewpoint has caused much confusion and led to a vertical divide between ‘old-timers’ and the ‘younger’ lot. The lurking shadow of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra assuming party leadership further muddies already murky waters.

That both assessments can be true further complicates matters, since no one can fathom the future of the two groups. Neither mother nor son has conveyed that they understand that the party requires both old warhorses as well as the younger leaders to work in tandem for different skills they possess. This leaves both groups with time and energy to plot against each other. Events in MP were principally a result of this, and Rajasthan’s state of affairs is no better. The leadership’s policy of non-interference compounds problems.

If Sonia Gandhi is merely keeping the seat warm for Rahul, the earlier he becomes president again, the better. But if Rahul Gandhi is, indeed, never going to be president again, it makes little sense for him to continue as Lok Sabha member and continue making statements without taking responsibility of their impact.

Like Mother, Like Son

But if the two disagree on several fundamental issues, and neither is willing to cede ground, there can be no resolution, and the slide to self-destruction shall continue. Powerful satraps will stick around only when they are made to feel that they are part of a bigger whole. Otherwise, they will be tempted to go their ‘regional’ ways. In any case, the main challenge to BJP will be from state parties, rather than national ones like Congress.

When the national leadership cannot ensure victories of other leaders in elections, the latter can be enthused by being given greater responsibilities and being made stakeholders. The Congress leadership remains restricted to a coterie that appears more faithful to Sonia Gandhi. This group certainly doesn’t display any vision for the future. Scindia’s departure was predominantly a symbolic loss. To prevent further material damage, the top two in the Congress duopoly must wake up and act.

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