The Congress Party has certainly not played its cards well. It has imperilled its government in Madhya Pradesh, which was formed after a gap of 15 years. The crisis has been triggered by the decision of the party’s middle-rung leader Jyotiraditya Scindia to leave the Congress and cross over to the BJP. Jyotiraditya Scindia is a talented politician and he is an asset wherever he belongs. This does not, however, mean that his exit has broken the back of the party, either in the state or in the country. The disparate political geography of Madhya Pradesh is such that Scindia is not a leader to reckon with across the state as of now. It is no reflection on the stature of Scindia as much as it is of the caste and regional profile of the state.
Even successful Congress leaders in the state like Arjun Singh and Digvijay Singh have not been able to command the loyalty of the party groups and of the people in the state. The Congress, for whatever reasons, seems capable of surviving the exit of big leaders. Remember the exit of old warhorse Sharad Pawar in 1998, but it did not break the party in Maharashtra. Compared to Pawar, Scindia is a weak leader, and he cannot hope to wreck the fortunes of the party in a big way, either in Madhya Pradesh or in other states. But there is no doubt whatsoever that the Congress would have benefited from the personal political worth of a Pawar and a Scindia in its ranks. It is not the end of the road for either the Congress or for Scindia.
There is much that is interesting, in terms of political sociology, about the equation of Scindia with the Congress Party. The party has always cultivated the social elite, whether from the feudal order, from the well-heeled dominant castes and from the middle class, and even plutocrats, and it has successfully integrated them into the leadership structure of the organisation. But there was an uneasy rubbing of shoulders between the elite and commoners, for whom the party had opened the doors of social and political mobility. Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi were much at home with the representatives of the elite in the party, but they were sensitive to the other sections who came from diverse social, economic and regional backgrounds. They held the balance between the haves and have-nots in the party. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are performing the same balancing act now. The political rhetoric of the party is ostensibly anti-elite and anti-rich classes. The critics of the Congress, right from old socialists to the lower-middle class ultra-nationalists of the BJP, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have called it sheer hypocrisy. But the Congress could not throw out either the elite in the party or give up the socialist rhetoric. So, the argument of the naïve critics that Scindia should have been rewarded in the party, and there was even a hint that he should have been made the president of the organisation, is quite off the mark. There are too many in the party to attack Scindia and his ilk for their privileged backgrounds. There is nothing vicious or malicious about it. It is part of the political struggle for survival. The structural tensility of the party offers no easy solutions. The rivals of Scindia, in Madhya Pradesh and in the party, could not have been ignored easily.
It is also an open question as to what Scindia brings to the BJP. The party is quite strong in Madhya Pradesh and there is not much that Mr Scindia can add to it. He is not even an energetic leader like his aunt, Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan, who led the party in electoral contests and showed skills in managing the pulls and the pushes in the party, sometimes successfully and at other times not. Scindia on the other hand has not shown much stomach for internal party struggles. One would have expected him to plot better and outflank cunning leaders like Digvijay Singh and Kamal Nath, which he did not. Somewhere, he is not made for the rough and tumble of politics. It is not necessary that Scindia should be like his aunt or he should be fighting off fellow-Madhya Pradesh Congress leaders like Kamal Nath and Digvijay Singh. He seems to want a position for himself which suits his temperament and talent.
But he has strengths of his own. Scindia is urbane, intelligent and well-educated. Indian politics is sorely in need of individuals with these qualities, and it does not matter which party they belong to. The Congress has many such people and it tries to keep them as much as it can. The BJP has so far not shown much inclination to keep the well-heeled and the well-educated in its ranks, and it needs such people as well. Quite possibly, Scindia would be an asset to the BJP in this way. Meanwhile, he may hone further his skills of reaching out to people and to win over his peers and rivals. Politics is a tough act and one must constantly be fighting to maintain one’s balance.
The Scindia disruption is a reminder to the Congress that it has problems on its hand, but the problem has more to do with the ideology rather than factional fighting among the party leaders. The Congress has not been able to articulate its standpoint. For example, Scindia supported the abrogation of Article 370, and he was not alone among Congress members to do so. A clever Congress leadership would have used the input of Scindia to come up with an intelligent, nuanced position. The Congress is a weak party because it is at sea and it does not know the position it should adopt with the evolving situation in the country. It is in this time of confusion that Scindia would have been of great help in clarifying the party’s thinking. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi do not seem to realise that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has stolen their socialist thunder and left them empty-handed.