“They are not making the Chief Minister after all,” said a Congress leader after Jyotiraditya Scindia formally joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and was offered a Rajya Sabha ticket.
Calculating ‘gains and losses’ from a political switch of a prominent leader is a given. So, it is natural for the average Congress leader to indulge in such an exercise if the switch involves Mr. Scindia, as high-profile a politician as any. The 49-year-old leader was not just head of the Congress’ Campaign Committee for the 2018 Madhya Pradesh (MP) Assembly elections but also a star campaigner and the most articulate public speaker.
Though many within the Congress now talk of Mr. Scindia as not being a mass leader, I clearly remember that the battle for Madhya Pradesh in 2018 was positioned as a fight between “Maharaj and Shivraj” among the masses. While the Maharaj, as Mr. Scindia is referred to because of his Gwalior Royal family lineage, represented the elite, the former Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan reflected the aspirations of the common man. Even the BJP’s TV advertisements that played out on local and regional channels focussed on this personality clash.
Given this backdrop, when the Congress preferred veteran Kamal Nath over the Maharaj to head the government, Mr. Scindia’s supporters were livid. Many of the Gwalior Royal’s supporters alleged that he was kept away just to ensure that he couldn’t outshine his one-time friend and former party chief, Rahul Gandhi. First, they argued, the Congress High Command ignored him for the post of the State Congress chief. And then they ignored him for the Chief Minister’s chair.
Would this wrong be corrected by Mr. Scindia’s new party? Well, as his supporters do a cost-benefit analysis of his move, one is reminded of another high-profile switch from the Congress a few years ago from Assam.
Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, universally acknowledged as the force behind Congress’ 15-year uninterrupted rule in the State, quit the Congress after party leadership ignored his claim to the Chief Minister’s chair. A large section of the Congress backed his claim and wanted the then Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi to step down but Mr. Gandhi proved to be the stumbling block. Since May 2016, when the BJP came to power, Mr. Sharma’s political clout has steadily grown and is believed to now part of the core team of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. He is not only the face of the party in the North East but can credited for ensuring a ‘Congress-mukt’ North East.
Mr. Sharma managed to install non-Congress governments in every North-Eastern State even if the BJP didn’t always emerge as the single-largest party. Of course, his ambition of becoming Chief Minister continues to elude him.
“You know our boys from the North East are playing for every well known football club across the country. They are hired as strikers to score goals but rarely do they become captain of the host team,” says a senior BJP politician from the North East. Mr. Sharma’s boss and Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal (formerly with the Asom Gana Parishad) too was a ‘striker’. And he now captains the team.
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