Jyotiraditya Scindia joins BJP: Congress may point fingers at saffron party, but Madhya Pradesh imbroglio is primarily a self-goal
The conditions under which Scindia has taken this route have been created by the Congress ‘high command’ or whatever passes for it.
The Congress government in Madhya Pradesh is as good as gone, with Jyotiraditya Scindia having crossed over to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The Congress will not have anywhere near a majority in the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly unless the party manages to persuade most of the departing MLAs to return to the fold.
The reason for Scindia’s departure is obviously the search for paths to self-aggrandisement.
But the conditions under which Scindia has taken this route have been created by the Congress ‘high command’ or whatever passes for it.
The Congress government in Madhya Pradesh is as good as gone, with Jyotiraditya Scindia having crossed over to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He is taking 22 MLAs with him, at last count. It is possible that the two Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) MLAs, one Samajwadi Party (SP) MLA and four Independent MLAs will either switch loyalties or withdraw support from the Congress.
How exactly the numbers will pan out is not clear at the moment, but it’s certain that the Congress will not have anywhere near a majority in the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly unless the party manages to persuade most of the departing MLAs to return to the fold. It’s almost equally certain that the BJP will get a majority if most of the Scindia loyalists remain firm about their resignations. The numbers look something like this: The Assembly has 230 members. Before the crisis, the Congress had 114 members, BJP 109, BSP two and SP one. There were four Independents. The Congress formed the government with the support of the BSP, SP and Independents.
With 22 Congress MLAs out of the picture as of now, the strength of the House will go down to 206. With two seats vacant in addition to the 22 resignations, the majority mark will be down to 104. The BJP, with 107 members in the House, will be comfortably in a position to form a government.
The Congress is obviously pointing fingers: In its view it is the BJP that has destabilised the party and caused the dismantling of the government led by Kamal Nath. It is obviously pretty open and shut that the BJP abetted and facilitated Scindia’s departure. But that is not the point. Though the ruling party at the Centre has a track record of splashing cash and other incentives to bring governments down, in this case, whatever be the extent of its involvement, the fall of the Nath government is primarily a self-goal.
The reason for Scindia’s departure is obviously the search for paths to self-aggrandisement, but the conditions under which Scindia has taken this route have been created by the Congress ‘high command’ or whatever passes for it. The Congress is in free fall and unless it does something drastic, the party will be over long before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections heave into view.
Before I get to the problems the party is beset with, it may be relevant to point out that the Congress has weathered many, many serious storms in the 72-73 years since Independence. In 1962, after the Chinese war and Nehru’s illness, there was a power vacuum that had threatened to render the party rudderless, until the ‘Syndicate’ took control. There was the question of ‘After Nehru, who?’ in 1964 and the party’s first leadership contest in 1966. There was the chastening debacle in the 1967 general elections, and there were two major splits in the party in 1969 and 1978. There was also the defeat in the post-Emergency elections. Much later, there was the post-1996 leadership vacuum. But the party always had the will and wherewithal to meet these challenges, in whatever manner.
Since 2014, the party seems to have lost both the will and the wherewithal to take hard decisions. This is especially true of the months following the party’s humbling in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. There is a problem of leadership at the highest level, which has spread like a contagion through those parts of the country where the Congress still had a semblance of control.
When Rahul Gandhi abdicated and resigned from the post of Congress president days after the election results were declared, the party went into a state of paralysis. In effect, it was leaderless for two-and-a-half months, until the Congress Working Committee (CWC) practically herded Sonia Gandhi into taking over as interim chief. Quite clearly, this is not a state of affairs that should be the cause of any great optimism for supporters or members of the Congress. Sonia is clearly not well enough to shoulder the responsibility. This arrangement is as unfair to her as it is to the party.
Under her watch, the party failed to register a single seat in the Delhi Assembly elections and came in fourth, behind its junior alliance partner, the Nationalist Congress Party, in the Maharashtra Assembly elections. It did well in Jharkhand, possibly because Sonia had the sense to get the party off its high horse and accept a junior status in its alliance with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha; and in Haryana, because, late in the day, she handed electoral matters over to former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who had been sidelined by Rahul.
But these flashes hardly light the way forward for the Congress. It must have a full-time leader, who will pick a balanced CWC, which will co-ordinate the party’s activities at the Centre and in the states. Dinesh Gundu Rao, the former president of the Karnataka unit of the party, has already said that the only way forward is for Rahul Gandhi to return to take charge. To neutral observers, that is clearly among the least desirable of outcomes, if for nothing else but the former chief’s disturbing predilection for deserting the party and refusing to take responsibility when a leader is most required. He did it in 2014 and repeated his response in 2019.
So, what could possibly be the way forward? It’s obvious that Sonia must be relieved of her responsibilities as soon as possible. If that is followed by desperate public efforts by the CWC alongside other senior leaders to convince Rahul to take over once again, without even a bow to due electoral process explicitly enshrined in Article XVIII of the party’s constitution (as amended in 2010), nothing will have changed, including the Congress’s prospects, which at the moment are fast headed for a subterranean future.
Any suggestion, in this context, that the Congress could, at the very least, experiment with a bare-knuckle election, is usually dismissed as being naïve or unrealistic or both. On the face of it, however, at the present juncture, there is little the party could lose by trying it out. It is possible that if Rahul declares his candidature for an election, no one else will contest. That will be a pity, but an honest declaration by the CWC of the intention to hold a proper election will strengthen the hand of whoever ultimately wins. Even if it is Rahul, without a contest.
At any rate, the leadership issue must be settled. Last year, desertions from the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) made it possible for the BJP to form a government precisely when the party was headless and scrambling to find a leader – actually, trying to persuade Rahul to rescind his resignation. There was no one at the helm to co-ordinate a coherent response to the crisis.
Much the same is true of Madhya Pradesh now. Since Kamal Nath was chosen as chief minister 15 months ago, he’s been doubling as the head of the state unit. The party leadership has been too slow, too disengaged to either allow the state unit to elect a new leader (most desirable) or nominate a full-time head, which has meant that power is too concentrated in Nath’s hands and others. On that, Scindia has a grievance. It is unfortunate that he has decided that the only way he can resolve it is by leaving the party with a phalanx of MLAs. But it is not a completely illegitimate choice, given the hands-off approach of the leadership.
The immediate cause of the parting of ways is Rajya Sabha nominations. On this question, too, the leadership has dithered. Some workers/leaders in the state have demanded that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra be the candidate. Clearly, given the realities of the situation in Madhya Pradesh, where the state unit is riven by factionalism, both the issues of the Rajya Sabha nomination and the leadership of the state unit should have been addressed promptly and, keeping in mind competing claims, equitably. The problem, as earlier argued, is a leadership vacuum and the complete lack of will and decisiveness, which has given dominant factions in states the leeway to monopolise power.
It would be better for the Congress to urgently address these gargantuan problems on an emergency basis than moaning about the BJP’s machinations. It should know better than commentators that this is what the BJP does and if it continues to serve up these half-volleys to its antagonists, there’s no point in expecting them not to put them away.
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