This is the chronicle of a political crisis foretold. The Congress in a self-fulfilling prophecy this morning said a twin goodbye -- to its government in Madhya Pradesh as well as four-term member of parliament Jyotiraditya Scindia who resigned from the party as a precursor to joining the BJP.
It turned into a politically colourful Holi with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah celebrating by repaying the Congress in full measure for being stymied from taking power in Maharashtra.
Scindia quit the Congress about 24 hours ago with a resignation letter addressed to party president Sonia Gandhi and drove his Land Rover to pick up Shah for a formal meeting with Modi at the PM's residence. That meet marked the end of the MP government led by 73-year-old Kamal Nath.
Despite Scindia being one of Rahul Gandhi's closest lieutenants, incredibly the Congress party and its First Family (interchangeable for years now) did nothing to hold him back from crossing over to the BJP. Even the threatened loss of the government in MP (now a reality) with about 20 MLAs sequestered in Bangalore - the centre of resort politics - with Scindia's long-term private secretary did not provoke crisis management.
So what did Scindia want? Sources close to him say that after his loss in the 2019 election from Guna, his traditional seat, he had been frozen out of the decision-making in Madhya Pradesh with his two rivals, Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh - called the "super CM" - ganging up against him. Scindia signalled his anger publicly numerous times, including most recently stating that that he would hit the streets in protest as the government had failed to keep its word on compensation to teachers. Kamal Nath's response: "Let him".
Scindia saw his stature in his home state being reduced to nil as the Congress "high command" - pretty much the Gandhi family - refused to intervene. Scindia wanted to become the MP Congress Chief (a post held by Kamal Nath) and entry to the Rajya Sabha from Madhya Pradesh. Kamal Nath and Singh did their best to disallow it. Guided by Singh, Kamal Nath played the infallible "Gandhi family card" by offering Priyanka Gandhi Vadra the Rajya Sabha seat from the state. PGV, as she is known, would be able to keep her long-time Lutyens bungalow as a member of parliament. Now that she is no longer protected by the Special Protection Group, she has no grounds to remain in that home.
Sources say Scindia tried desperately to get a hearing from Sonia Gandhi but was rudely snubbed which is when the BJP renewed its potential as a real option for him. For the past two years, Modi and Shah had been wooing Scindia who was introduced to the PM by the late Arun Jaitley as the "most promising leader in India". A leading industrialist close to all three men also played a stellar role. Talk of Scindia joining the BJP would gain momentum every few months only to subside.
Till now. After the Sonia snub and as the days for the Rajya Sabha nominations drew to a close, Scindia made up his mind. Sources close to him say that it is clearly much more than a matter of one Rajya Sabha seat. There are reports of him being offered a place in the cabinet. A leader close to him said, "Yeh ek astitva ki ladai hai" (this is a fight for honour).
Till Scindia gave his personal commitment to Modi, the BJP was restive because he was perceived to be so close to Rahul Gandhi. A BJP leader griped, "Yeh bhai Ajit Pawar toh nahi kar raha" (is he doing an Ajit Pawar on us) referring to the disastrous and short-lived coalition that the BJP was misled into in Maharashtra with Sharad Pawar's nephew. However, he can rest assured as the Congress no longer has the sort of smarts that Pawar typifies.
Scindia has exposed what is now the Congress' open wound - the total leadership vacuum at the heart of the party. With three Gandhi family members in active politics, the party faces a paralysis in ideology and decision-making. Worse, the Scindia switch is being watched by other young electable leaders who are exhausted with the intra-party battles with the unelectable durbar around the Gandhi family and the lack of any strategy for a revival.
Sources say all the young leaders who have any base are viewed as a threat to Rahul Gandhi. The Congress has lost two general elections with the Gandhi family helming the party. And there has been no accountability or even rebooting. The rehearsed cry for "Rahul's return" keeps ringing out as a panacea. No takers.
One young leader who is also looking at the exit gate told me,"They want to force us out of the party. This loss is entirely self-inflicted. It is heartbreaking but if you have any public or electoral capital, you are now a threat to the Gandhi family".
The reaction of the Congress exposed much. Personal attacks were launched on Scindia. Ashok Gehlot who famously does not get along with his deputy Sachin Pilot attacked him for "ambition". A young Congress leader retaliated, "Tell Mr Gehlot to watch his back." Congress party Twitter handles cited Scindia's Guna loss. They seemed to forget Gandhi's loss of Amethi, the traditional family bastion.
The loss of the government in MP will not be the only blow. The Congress will bleed at least two more young and well-known leaders and another state government in the heartland is on the verge of falling. Just another day in the office for the clueless Congress.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
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