What’s up with Scindia, public servant?

Despondent Congressman and scion of the House of Scindia, Jyotiraditya, a chum of another depressed Congressman Rahul, descendant of the House of Nehru-Gandhi, has been feeling increasingly out of whack in the Grand Old Party for quite a while.

This is not exactly a classified secret. His recent decision to edit out his Congress connect in his Twitter profile and describe himself as “public servant and cricket enthusiast” instead has caused a bit of a rumble in political circles. It is obviously intended to send a firm signal to the High Command on his continuing neglect. For the record, of course, Scindia has clarified that the amended profile was a conscious exercise in concision and clarity. Only a fertile imagination would read something more into it.

Whatever the compulsions behind the changes, the question which itches to be asked: What if the old guard currently calling the shots within the High Command continues to ignore Scindia’s grievances? What are his choices? Will he confine his activities to servantship of the public (and cricket) or expand his political horizons beyond the Congress.

Fading recognition must surely be cloying at the heart of ‘Jyotir’ as he is known to friends in Delhi’s cocktail circuit. Getting back his self-worth is not going to be easy given the paucity of options. Admittedly, he is not the only one facing a crisis of identity in the Congress: Others like Milind Deora, Sachin Pilot, and Jitin Prasada too figure in the list. Scindia, however, invites the most attention given his royal roots.

Jyotir’s acche din ended with the demise of UPA rule in which he was minister of state in both terms. Assigned to him were fairly important portfolios like Power, Commerce and Industry, and Communication. His overall status within the party post-2014 remained unaffected give his proximity to Rahul. As a three-time MP from Guna, his late father’s seat, he was hoping to have a greater say in state politics. As the 2018 Madhya Pradesh assembly polls drew nearer he became fidgety at the party’s diffidence to give him a larger role.

The reasons will be obvious to anyone familiar with the persona of the Scindias. Inability to wriggle out of their royal mould, and unshackle themselves from their uppity ways has always stood in the way of extending their influence beyond their traditional bastions of Gwalior-Guna and pockets of Malwa. Aunt Yashodhara, an ex-minister, once threw a huge fit at not being addressed with the honorific “Shrimant” in government correspondence. Contrast this with the image of real time Congress politicians like Digvijay Singh and Kamal Nath whose connect with people is immediate.

Kamal Nath’s political activities were confined to Chhindwara, his home borough, before he became chief minister. But this is because he had no desire to dabble in the nitty gritty of state politics as long as the requirements of his constituents was met. Scindia, on his part, made no secret of his ambition to become chief minister. What he never realized, and still does not, is his temperamental unsuitability to the needs of a 24/7 politician.

Which is not to say that Scindia is an unpleasant sort. In fact, he is intelligent, talks well, and comes across as among the most polished and educated of leaders. Humility, unfortunately, is the one trait which has eluded him. Neither father Madhav Rao nor he were cut out to be hands-on grassroots leaders wedded to the welfare of the masses. The ‘maharaja’ in them refused to take leave even as its ‘pull’ had faded.

Scindia’s discontent grew in geometric proportion after the Congress managed to get back into power in the 2018 poll. Not only were his claims for the top job glossed over, both Kamal Nath and Digvijay Singh managed to stall his appointment as PCC chief. It would have exacerbated the factionalism within and seriously impacted the coordination between party and government.

But worse was still to come. To keep him busy, he was asked to manage the Congress’ East UP campaign in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha poll. It was a thankless job which the results confirmed. But the coup de grace was the loss of the Guna seat to the BJP whose candidate was a former time server. The downward course in his fortunes was now complete.

So what now? With Rahul Gandhi opting out of his job as Congress president and the return of the old guard at the helm, Scindia has little or no chance of getting a party position. Moving to the BJP is an option which is unlikely to bring much dividend. He will be a misfit. The party already has a reasonably young leader in Shivraj S Chouhan who was chief minister for 13 straight years.

Aunt Yashodhara has been a BJP MLA since 1998. She was a minister in both the ministries of Shivraj Chouhan, but could never distinguish herself in any way. More successful was Aunt Vasundhara Raje, a two-time chief minister of Rajasthan. Her regal ways brought about her downfall. The only Scindia who remains an icon in the BJP was its founder, Rajmata Vijaya Raje, but her grandson has neither her stature nor her conservative view of politics.

So from the looks of things Scindia may just have to remain content in his self-appointed role of public servant. Which may not be a bad thing. The best he can hope for is an early return of Rahul Gandhi at the party’s helm, and a rehabilitation in some capacity. It will be a long wait.


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About the Author

Sudhir K Singh
Sudhir K 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 will be writing regularly for the Hindu Post as consulting editor.