If anyone had predicted a few months ago that Rahul Gandhi’s closest aide and buddy Jyotiraditya Scindia would quit the Congress and join the BJP, no one would have believed it.
Scindia is not an ordinary Congress leader. He was in the inner circle of Rahul Gandhi, with the former Congress president claiming “Jyotiraditya was one chap who could walk into my house any time”. In fact, insiders claim Scindia had a meal with Rahul Gandhi a few days ago before the latter left for Milan.
It is then a mystery why Scindia is complaining about lack of access to the leadership. A disgruntled Scindia has obviously chosen to look for greener pastures as the BJP has offered him not only a Rajya Sabha berth but also a place in the Modi cabinet. Indeed, it comes as a reward for a man who felt he was languishing in the Congress.
The Congress leadership, meanwhile, is in shock after Scindia’s exit. A senior Congress leader admitted that though they were aware of Scindia sulking after he lost the 2019 polls, they did not expect him to desert the party.
Scindia, known as ‘Maharaj’ to his followers, showed his clout when 22 Congress legislators quit with him, plunging the Madhya Pradesh government into crisis.
As the BJP gets ready to snatch the reins to power, Nath is making all-out efforts to save his government. And there are some who are hopeful. For instance, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar said: "Some people have confidence in the capacity of Kamal Nath and feel a miracle can happen.”
Scindia has been nursing a grouse since the time the party leadership chose Nath instead of him to be the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh 16 months ago. The idea to quit the party must have entered his head then.
Madhya Pradesh is also known for its factionalism. Scindia was upset that his followers were not getting support despite his recommendation as the powerful Digvijaya Singh-Kamal Nath duo had teamed up against him and marginalised him.
Scindia obviously did not see any future for himself in Congress. He was feeling boxed in, both in his home state and also at the national level. His exit was to come sooner or later and the Rajya Sabha elections just triggered it.
For the BJP, Scindia is indeed a big catch. His grandmother — Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia — was the main patron of the party in the eighties and nineties. As one BJP leader claimed, Scindia was not the only prize; he also brought with him the bonanza of the Madhya Pradesh government. Hence, it was sweet revenge for the BJP to bring down the Nath government.
Now that Scindia has quit, the Congress has to decide what next. The danger is not just Scindia leaving, as leaders bigger than him have left the Congress earlier, but that others could also desert the sinking ship.
Such a situation had arisen before Sonia Gandhi stepped in to arrest the erosion in 1997. The immediate priority is to check this trend.
There are already rumours that more leaders in Rahul Gandhi’s inner team might look for greener pastures. The BJP would embrace them as importing these established leaders into the BJP is one of the strategies of the saffron party, be it Himanta Biswa Sarma or Sanjay Singh.
The Congress leadership has to look inwards about why leaders like Scindia, who have been encouraged all through, are quitting the party.
Scindia was one of the names doing the rounds for the role of the party president when Rahul Gandhi quit in August last year. The party is shrinking and sinking. Demoralisation has already set in after the successive defeats in the Lok Sabha polls and it would become worse now. There is thus a desperate need to correct the situation.
The Congress has seen many ups and downs — including worse phases — but the leadership always managed to bring it back on track. This is exactly where the present leadership has failed.
In fact, the leadership crisis is one of the reasons for this state of affairs. Sonia Gandhi wants her son to lead the party but Rahul Gandhi is a reluctant leader who plays truant often with his disappearing acts.
Some disgruntled Congressmen are blaming Sonia Gandhi for her ‘putra moh’. There is a perpetual war between the old guard and the younger leaders for control of the party. Scindia’s exit is an example. The leadership has lost the loyalty of the Congress workers and leaders. The party will go down further if the Congress leadership does not address the rot.
(The author is a political analyst. Views expressed are personal)