Can Scindia adapt to Sangh and saffron culture?

The restless descendant of the House of Scindia, Jyotiraditya, had his own compelling reasons to quit the minority appeasing Congress after 18 years, and the ruling BJP its own to accede to his request. For Jyotir it was his party’s failure to give him a position in keeping with his stature as a former royal. The BJP, on its part, was driven by the desire to further puncture the pride of a country’s foremost political dynasty already on its last legs.

Roping in a well-known scion of a clan with a 200-year-old lineage to embarrass the nation’s predominant political dynasty since Independence got the attention it deserved. But will it have a long-term impact on the BJP’s internal dynamics at any level? For at the end of the day both Rahul Gandhi and his college friend and confidante, Jyotir, are products of privilege and entitlement. Neither is a mass leader, neither worked his way up, and neither has any significant achievement to his credit.

Jyotir, admittedly, is the better educated, more intelligent, and wiser. And as is usually the case in most pursuits, especially politics, merit plays second fiddle to mediocrity. Jyotir’s father, Madhav Rao, too was thwarted though many saw in him a future prime minister. He had reached his job max when felled by a copter crash in 2001.

Jyotir’s succession was hurried and premature. Having spent nearly two decades in the Congress eco-system, a key question will sooner or later come to haunt him and his party managers. How soon and how willingly will he embrace the party’s core ideology, Hindutva, put his royal lineage on the backburner, mellow his persona, and paint himself a proud saffron. Perhaps even intone, Jai Shri Ram. The challenge of self-imposed change is a problem his father never had to contend with since he meshed perfectly with Delhi’s Lutyens circuit. So did his Harvard-Stanford going son, now 49.

Jyotir’s political prospects in the BJP hinge on his metamorphosis. Nothing less will suffice if he wishes to occupy a front seat in the Modi-Shah era. Handing him a Rajya Sabha seat and allotting a berth in the Union Cabinet may be good for starters, but it is doubtful if that will whet his political appetite. A position of primacy in the politics of Madhya Pradesh is what he wants in the immediate future, and it is this which holds the potential for friction.

An abrupt change of course in mid-career has already begun to generate some heat among local BJP leaders. Aunt Yashodhara Raje, the only other Scindia in the state’s politics, never aroused any heartburn largely because she began her political career in the BJP. She was a member of parliament from Gwalior between 2007-12, and a minister in the Shivraj S. Chouhan cabinet between 2013-18, but never emerged as a power center. She lacked the vaulting ambition of her brother and nephew. Which is why the party’s frontline leaders in Madhya Pradesh (Shivraj S. Chouhan, Narendra S. Tomar, Narottam Mishra, and Kailash Vijaywargiya) took her in their stride.

Things might have been different had Jyotir’s elder aunt, Vasundhara Raje, also cut her teeth in Madhya Pradesh’s politics. Rajasthan became her political playground instead once she was married into the Dholpur royal family. Her astuteness and ability twice propelled her into the chief minister’s seat, but her queenly airs alienated her from many. Neither gave up their feudal ways. Yashodhara, in fact, threw a huge tantrum as minister to ensure she was addressed with the honorific Shrimant. Temperamentally both remain misfits in the BJP despite their long association with the party. And they were never crowd pullers.

Public fascination with the male line of the Gwalior royals, however, has still to evaporate. The rousing reception given to Jyotir on reaching Bhopal to file his RS nomination confirmed that the clan still retains a modicum of the old magic. It is bound to have made Shivraj Chouhan slightly uneasy despite the popularity he still enjoys in the rural interiors.

Jyotir played his cards well by stressing how beholden he was to Chouhan’s backing, and that together (ek aur ek gyarah) they were an invincible force. By citing their mutual sacrifice of air-conditioned cars, he drove the message that he was as much a people’s man as the paon-paon waale bhaiyya (brother on foot). He was clearly positioning himself as an alternative to Chouhan.

Mind you not once during the induction proceedings at the Party HQ in Delhi on March 10 were his guns trained at the Gandhis, much less his college chum whose inability and incapacity is at the root of the crisis in the Congress. In fact, what he tangentially implied was that had corrective steps been taken after successive defeat at the hustings, and better use made of his talents in Madhya Pradesh, he may still have stuck around.

Frontally assaulted instead was the party’s misrule in MP. Barring the festering corruption, most issues like the failure to waive farmer loans or withdrawal of police cases against protesting farmers at Mandsaur in June 2017 have nothing to do with the BJP. The Mandsaur tragedy in which five farmers were killed in police firing was provoked by the Congress to stir trouble against the then government. The BJP, should it displace the Kamal Nath regime this month, is under no obligation to fulfil the financially ruinous promises of the Congress to win votes. Pressure from Jyotir to honor them could open the doors of dissent.

The BJP’s politics in the Gwalior-Chambal region has traditionally been anchored in anti-Palace diatribe. Opposition to Madhav Rao, the rift with his mother, the Rajmata, a founder member of the BJP and a veteran of the erstwhile Bhartiya Jana Sangh, lay at the very core. Jyotir’s entry will necessitate reworking old hostilities. Narendra S. Tomar and Narottam Mishra are both established leaders of the region. Beyond a point they are unlikely to bend over backward to humor the maharaj.

Inclusion of the most prestigious member of the Scindia clan should ideally help the BJP dominate the region’s politics in Madhya Pradesh. The maharaj is still seen as the suzerain despite the loss of the Guna seat in 2019. The resignation of 22 Congress MLAs who have sworn their fealty to him cannot be glossed over.

Jyotir’s future in the party will depend on two factors: how well he adapts to the Sangh’s culture and how well he gets along with other senior leaders of the region who do not regard him their maharaj. His Congress bred mien of old will not work in the BJP.


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About the Author

Sudhir Kumar Singh
Sudhir Kumar Singh is an independent journalist who has worked in senior editorial positions in the Times Of India, Asian Age, Pioneer, and the Statesman. Also a sometime stage and film actor who has worked with iconic directors like Satyajit Ray and Tapan Sinha. He writes regularly for the HinduPost as consulting editor.