The resignation of Jyotiraditya Scindia is a huge loss for the Congress. With the young Congress leaders continued to be sidelined, it has also exposed the problem of leadership at the highest level in the grand old party.
On 20th,March,2020, Congress veteran and a trusted lieutenant of Gandhi family, Kamal Nath resigned from the post of Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh and with it the grand old party has lost one more state. In November 2018, Congress stormed in to power over throwing BJP’s fifteen year rule and looked formidable. But, in less than 15 months, the Congress government wilted under pressure due to factionalism and infighting.
So rampant is the factionalism and infighting in Congress that prompted Jyothiraditya Scindia, a close aide of the Congress’ eternal prince Rahul Gandhi and a powerful youth icon, to bid good-bye and join the BJP.
Actually the trouble brewed in the party when then Congress President Rahul Gandhi, placed his trust on the old guards in both Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan in November 2018 after the party won three states including Chhattisgarh, in what was touted to be the referendum for the Lok Sabha polls in May 2019.
Before submitting his resignation, Kamal Nath accused the BJP of killing the democratic values by conspiring against his government and blamed former Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia for the current political crisis in the state.
"I took over as the chief minister on 17 December, 2018. During my political career, I have always believed in development. I was given an opportunity for a period of five years to give a new identity to the state. But the BJP didn't like the people-centric works carried out by my government during our 15-month rule, so they kept conspiring against me. The BJP betrayed the people of the state by destabilising the government", said Kamal Nath.
Though Kamal Nath accused the BJP and Congress party as a whole point fingers at the saffron party, the Madhya Pradesh imbroglio is primarily a self-goal by the grand old party. The fact remains that the Congress has been pushed in to a quagmire of problems mainly because of its continued allegiance to old horses and the absolute neglect of young Turks.
Jyotiraditya Scindia not only exited the party after 18 year stint and crossed over to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but also took 22 MLAs with him. The fact that both Kamal Nath and the party’s top brass failed miserably to persuade them successfully to change their mind, speaks a lot about the level of dissent existing in the party and especially under Kamal Nath’s leadership. Though, it is clear that the BJP abetted and facilitated Scindia’s departure, the fall of the Kamal Nath government is primarily a self-goal. With 22 Congress MLAs resigned, the strength of the House went down to 206. With two seats vacant, the majority mark also came down to 104. The BJP, already with 107 members in the House, emerged a clear winner to form a government.
All said and done, certainly Scindia’s departure is a massive blow to the Congress, though the Congress tried to put up a brave front after Scindia’s resignation. Many Congress leaders accused Scindia for exhibiting self-aggrandisement and many even blamed him for ditching the party that has given so much in the last 18 years. Many questioned Scindia’s loyalty. Though the reason for Scindia’s departure from Congress is obviously to fulfil his political aspirations, one should also weigh in the conditions under which Scindia was forced to take the decision to resign from the Congress and join the BJP.
Considering Scindia’s clout and also proximity to the Gandhi family many Congress leaders thought that he would actually bite the bullet. Actually the writing on the wall was clear, the crisis actually started after the Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections in December 2018. When the then Congress president Rahul Gandhi decided to make Kamal Nath the chief minister, it was believed that he had promised Scindia the state president's post.
For months, Jyotiraditya Scindia patiently waited to hear from the party high command but nothing happened. In the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls instead, he was roped in at the last minute to boost the campaign as general secretary in-charge of Western Uttar Pradesh. Political analysts point out that it was a deliberate attempt to keep him away from Madhya Pradesh politics.
After the 2019 debacle, the party president Rahul Gandhi resigned amidst dissensions that rocked the party and refused to take back his resignation. At that crucial juncture, some even mooted Jyotiraditya Scindia's name as the president. The prominence of Scindia was always apparent in the party and he was heard out carefully However, it turned out that it was Scindia who proposed Sonia Gandhi's name and even went on to persuade her to take up the job again. But, Scindia could not bring Madhya Pradesh under his control as two veterans – Chief Minister Kamal Nath and former Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh - joining forces against him, the going only got tougher for Scindia. In this regard it was very clear that over the years the Congress ‘high command’ has continued to neglect his fervent pleas and deny him greater roles.
The final push had come when Scindia openly accused the party and said, “It is impossible that Congress party makes a promise and does not fulfil it. If Congress has promised something then it is very important to fulfil it...nahi to sadak par utarna padega [otherwise we'll take to the streets]". Ironically, Kamal Nath retorted to Scindia's threat to protest and said: "toh utar jayein [do it]". For the chief minister to make such a remark was an indicator that the party high command was strongly backing him.
Scindia has been upset with Sonia and Rahul Gandhi as well. Not simply because of the way they allowed him to be undermined in the party but also because he saw the Congress going nowhere under their leadership.
Scindia was fighting a battle for survival within his own party and felt betrayed. He finally chose to depart. BJP was swift to sense the discomfort and worked on it. Whatever be the extent of BJP’s involvement in bringing Kamal Nath government down, it is mainly Congress’ incapacity to stem the infightings that has led to the fall.
Scindia himself made it very clear by saying “I thank PM Modi and Shah for giving me a place in their family. Hurt and distressed that I was not able to serve people. Congress is no longer what it used to be. It is living in denial. PM Modi's ability to work, using the mandate in a proactive way and the way he has brought international repute to India and implemented schemes. I believe the country is safe in his hands”.
Many old timers point out that the grand old party has weathered many serious storms since Independence. The first major problem came up after Nehru’s illness. The party faced its first leadership crisis in 1966 when the question, ‘After Nehru, who?’ arose. Then Indira Gandhi emerged as a powerful leader thus paving the way for the dynastic rule in the Congress and it simply continues till today.
Despite the Gandhi family’s drubbing in the general elections – right from the time of Indira’s post-Emergency elections to Rajiv Gandhi’s loss to VP Singh and to the recent humiliating defeats under Sonia Gandhi in 2014 and under Rahul Gandhi in 2019, the party has always remained numb to the leadership vacuum.
The lacklustre leadership of Rahul Gandhi and the way he abdicated and resigned from the post of Congress president days after the election results were declared in May 2019, completely exposed the decision making capacity of the party high command.
Rahul’s stubbornness of has literally damaged the party further. It also raised apprehensions about his leadership abilities. Rather than face the defeat and lead the turnaround from the front, Rahul chose to move away. But, under Rahul Gandhi it looks like the party has lost the will and wherewithal to meet the leadership challenges.
The fact that the party remained leaderless for two-and-a-half months, until the Congress Working Committee (CWC), reverted back to Sonia Gandhi and installed her as interim chief. The pathetic part is that despite humiliating defeats the party refuses to think of anyone other than the Gandhi family to the top post. To many hardcore Congress supporters the decision of the CWC was a clear disappointment. Quite clearly, the current state of affairs has not brought great optimism for the grass root workers of the party as Sonia had failed shoulder the responsibility.
Today Rahul Gandhi stands thoroughly exposed 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. Today’s Congress is crumbling under the leadership crisis and struggling to take hard decisions that can revive the party. 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. Today the grand old party is no more the powerful force that once could virtually alter the Indian political space.