On the day of Holi, the political colours in Madhya Pradesh appeared set to turn saffron, as senior Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia quit his party. An exodus of MLAs from the Congress followed, with as many as 22 legislators quitting the Grand Old Party.
News18 quoted sources as saying that Scindia may join the Bharatiya Janata Party on 12 March.
This leaves the 15 month-old Kamal Nath government in the state on the brink of collapse.
A shell-shocked Congress, in a largely symbolic move of no consequence, expelled Scindia, the party general secretary and scion of the erstwhile Gwalior royal family, on charges of anti-party activities.
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On Tuesday morning, Scindia met senior BJP leader and home minister Amit Shah, following which he called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his 7, Lok Kalyan Marg residence.
There was no official word on what transpired at the meetings. However, BJP sources told PTI that the decision of the party's top two leaders to hold long deliberations with Scindia underlined the importance they attach to him.
In the resignation letter dated 9 March to Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi, Scindia said "it is now time for me to move on" as he was unable to serve the people of the country while remaining in the party.
The party said his letter was received at Sonia Gandhi's residence only at 12.20 pm on Tuesday.
Congress has a wafer-thin majority in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly whose current effective strength is 228. If the resignations of the 22 MLAs are accepted, the strength of the Assembly will fall to 206. The magic number for retaining the majority then will be 105. The Congress, however, will be left with 94 seats while the BJP has 104 seats. The Congress has the support of four Independents, two BSP, and one SP MLA. Even with their support, Congress will fall sort of a majority, and it is anyway unclear if they will continue to support Congress or go with the BJP.
'Time to move on', says Scindia
Noting that the events of the day had been drawing themselves out for a year, Scindia, in his letter to Gandhi, said it was now best for him to look at a fresh start.
"Having been a primary member of the Congress party for the last 18 years. It is now time for me to move on. I am tendering my resignation from the primary membership of the Congress and as you well know this is a path that has been drawing itself out over the last year," Scindia wrote in the letter.
"While my aim and purpose remains the same as it has always been from the very beginning, to serve the people of my state and my country, I believe I am unable to do this anymore within this party," Scindia said in his resignation letter posted on Twitter.
"To reflect and realise the aspirations of my people and workers I believe it is best that I now look ahead at a fresh start," he said.
The former Guna MP also thanked Gandhi and his other former Congress colleagues for "providing him with a platform to have served the nation".
Soon thereafter, a statement from AICC general secretary KC Venugopal said the Congress president has "approved the expulsion of Jyotiraditya Scindia from the Indian National Congress with immediate effect for anti-party activities".
Meanwhile, in Bhopal, 14 Congress MLAs loyal to Scindia sent their resignations to Madhya Pradesh Governor Lal Ji Tandon, Raj Bhavan sources said.
Scindia, once considered a rising star of the party, has long been at loggerheads with Nath who belongs to the old guard. After narrowly winning the state Assembly election in December 2018, Nath took over as Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh.
But trouble started brewing recently when Scindia's supporters in the government were side-lined, and it appeared that his ambitions to be the state Congress president were also thwarted. It was also clear that the central leadership was not ready to listen to his grievances.
This weekend, Scindia and six ministers in the Kamal Nath Cabinet went to Bengaluru and became incommunicado. It then became clear that a rebellion was brewing in the party and Nath would lose the support of the six ministers as well as other MLAs loyal to Scindia.
Nath on Tuesday wrote to Governor Tandon seeking immediate removal of six ministers who belonged to Scindia's camp.
The outcome of the political drama being played out on the Holi day goes beyond Madhya Pradesh, which itself is important for both the BJP and the Congress. Madhya Pradesh was one of the three major states where the Congress evicted BJP in a series of Assembly elections before the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
With the imminent loss of Madhya Pradesh, it will become clear that the Congress leadership has failed to keep a cohesive united front and has been unable to control the conflicting ambitions of its many regional leaders. Continued infighting is likely to further debilitate the party, which is already a pale shadow of its former greatness at the national level.
Regaining Madhya Pradesh will greatly enhance BJP's strength in the Hindi belt, and Congress will have only Punjab and Rajasthan, where too, it's beset with factional feuds, as the major states under its control.
Congress leaders slam Scindia
Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot said joining hands with BJP at a time of "national crisis" speaks volumes about Scindia's "self-indulgent" ambitions. He added that people like Scindia prove they cannot thrive without power, and the sooner they leave the better.
Another Congress leader, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, also slammed Scindia, saying it "is sad news for the Congress party".
"He had been entrusted with important jobs by the party. But now the situation had come to such a pass that he found it more convenient to switch over to the other party," Chowdhury told PTI.
"Some sort of allurement, enticement offered by the BJP had convinced him for switching over," Chowdhury said. "Now he has become the asset of the BJP party."
With inputs from PTI
Updated Date: Mar 10, 2020 20:41:01 IST