This Article is From Mar 11, 2020

Scindia, Seen As Threat To Rahul Gandhi, Had No Choice

In his resignation letter to Sonia Gandhi, Jyotiraditya Scindia wrote that his purpose is to "serve the people of my state and country." This is nothing unique. Ask any politician and they will say they are in it for seva. And we all know that is not true.

Politicians are in politics because they have a will to power. In democracies, they fight elections to be the first amongst equals. If they win, they make laws and decide how people will be governed. If they lose, they form pressure groups to negotiate concessions from the state.

In India, there are two types of politicians: the first who get power from the top and the second who rise from the bottom. The first kind are often born into powerful political families, or are powerful functionaries within party organisations, or else, they enter laterally from professions that are closely tied to the functioning of the state - such as lawyers, for instance. Jyotiraditya Scindia clearly belongs to this group.


Former Union Minister and four-time parliamentarian Jyotiraditya Scindia resigned from the Congress yesterday

The second kind rise from the intersection of activism and crime. They organise people to go and protest outside a police station when a hawker's thela is confiscated. They agitate to get illegal encroachments regularized. They organize the supply of water and electricity - for a price - in places where state utilities are absent. And they are closely tied with local mafia who work in tandem with law enforcers.

Politicians like Jyotiraditya Scindia usually make it to state assemblies and parliament. They appear on TV news shows, are chief guests at book launches, grace dinner parties of the swish set, and speak at press conferences. These netas are the first to get important positions in party organisations, and eventually become ministers and chief ministers.

But even these top-down politicians have to depend on an entire hierarchical network of bottom-up politicians. Each minor neta has a small local power base which they bring together during elections. Many such local politicians, each representing a group of voters, coalesce to form a wider base under a superior neta. These are small political units which can move from one party to the other, depending on prevailing political conditions.

The Jyotiraditya Scindias of India need a pyramid of such netas to maintain their hold on power. In turn, they need to feed this pyramid the fruits of power. When a party is out of government, the netas at the top distribute whatever they can get - funds, recommendations for jobs, sub-contracts from friendly corporates and some leftover scraps from the opposing party's government itself.


Jyotiraditya Scindia, Rahul Gandhi and Kamal Nath (file photo)

When a party forms the government, the spoils of power are expected to be much richer. So the top-level netas need important ministries, which control key resources. They then distribute benefits down the pyramid - committee memberships, directorships of government departments and PSUs, plum contracts. This is the way to sustain and reproduce the system of political power that keeps the big leaders at the top.

The 'Scindia System of Power' expected a share of the treasures of being in government, expecting Jyotiraditya to become the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh. Not only did that not happen, Scindia was actively isolated by the man who did get to sit on the MP throne. A few months after the Congress party's win in the state, Jyotiraditya Scindia found that the party machinery in the state wasn't backing him fully in his Lok Sabha battle in Guna. Things were so bad for the young leader that he couldn't even get officials transferred.

The Congress High Command sent an unequivocal message that they wanted Jyotiraditya cut down to size. He was given charge of Western UP in the Lok Sabha elections, where the Congress party expected to do badly. Priyanka Gandhi got Eastern UP, where the Congress had done much better even in 2014. So any possible gains would have been to Priyanka's credit and any losses would have been notched up to Jyotiraditya.


Jyotiraditya Scindia, who was once close to the Gandhi family, has been unhappy with senior Congress leadership for some time now.

Jyotiraditya made one last ditch effort to remain relevant within the structure of power. He asked to be nominated to the Rajya Sabha. Even this was rejected by the Gandhis. Those who report on the Congress say, Sonia Gandhi didn't want Jyotiraditya to rise and become a potential threat to the Gandhi family's grip on the Congress party.

Jyotiraditya therefore had only way door open for him - the one that led out of the Congress party. He had already started opening doors with the BJP by backing the government over Article 370. It is instructive that he wrote in his resignation letter that his break from the party "was drawing itself out over the last year." And many journalists close to Scindia have been talking about his possible exit for some time now. If he sat twiddling his thumbs, the 'Scindia System of Power' would have disintegrated, ending his career.

The question is - did the Gandhis have any choice either? If the Congress had won an outright majority in Madhya Pradesh, the High Command might have been able to impose its writ. But as it turned out, the party fell marginally short of the half-way mark. In such circumstances, the Gandhis had to back Kamal Nath, who clearly controlled more MLAs and had more money to cajole independents, if the need arose. Jyotiraditya had to be sacrificed.


Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath says he is confident that his government will not collapse following the crisis triggered by the big revolt led by Jyotiraditya Scindia

Rahul Gandhi's failure in 2019 made Jyotiraditya an even bigger threat to the Gandhis. He is English-speaking, has the right pedigree, can walk into the homes of India's top corporates, and has great media connections. More importantly, India's chatterati like him more than Rahul Gandhi. He is predictable and conservative and generally bats for those in power.

Jyotiraditya is not the only young Congress leader who finds himself stifled in the party. There are many young leaders, especially in UP, many of whom are heirs to powerful UP families and have been thinking of jumping ship. The Congress is showing no signs of any revival in that state, and moving to the BJP, SP or BSP, might help these young leaders stay alive as career politicians.

Ultimately, whether it is the Gandhis or Jyotiraditya Scindia, everyone in the world of politics needs to have a finger in the pie of power. If they are kept out, they need to find another hand that will feed them. For Jyotiraditya, the BJP is a natural choice. He has two aunts there, and his grandmother was a key leader from the Jan Sangh days. He might find it difficult to adjust initially. But he simply had no other choice. 

(Aunindyo Chakravarty was Senior Managing Editor of NDTV's Hindi and Business news channels.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.