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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 13 New Delhi March 14, 2020

Jyotiraditya Finds New Pasture

Sunday 15 March 2020, by Barun Das Gupta

Jyotiraditya Scindia, the scion of the royal family of Gwalior, who grew up in the Congress for eighteen years and one of those whom the people believed the mantle of the Congress will eventually devolve on, has deserted the party and found a new pasture in the BJP. In defence of his defection to the saffron party, Scindia has alleged that the Congress has ceased to be the party that it once was.

Granted that the Congress has ceased to be what it was, granted that the Congress has become too organisationally weak to play an effective role in national politics, granted that the party has become practically without a leader. But the Congress, howsoever weak, has not abandoned its ideology of democracy, secularism and an unflinching commitment to fighting communalism, the ideology Scindia had been loyal to and the ideology he has not yet formally bidden goodbye to. Can Scindia provide a rationale for his action: being disillusioned with a secular party he decided to embrace a party which stands for creating a Hindu Rashtra? Now he will have as his companions and colleagues such men as Anurag Thakur, Kapil Mishra and Pervesh Varma. He can no longer object to such slogans as “Goli Maro Salon-ko”.

Scindia’s desertion of the Congress just after the Delhi communal riots is particularly unfortunate. The role of his new party in organising the riots must be known to him. He has heard the government’s official position on the riots as explained by Home Minister Amit Shah in Parliament and his mischievous insinuation that it was Congress President Sonia Gandhi who instigated the riots. Now Scindia will have to stomach without a murmur of protest the preposterous charge that his leader of nearly two decades is an instigator of communal riots. He will have to stomach many other charges against the Congress as well—charges he knows as false and fabricated.

Scindia has been chosen as one of the BJP candidates for the coming Rajya Sabha biennial elections. No doubt, he will win comfortably and if the political grapevine is true, he is slated to become a member of the Union Cabinet. He will now speak a new political language, support actions he had fiercely opposed so long and defend an ideology he had earlier found as abhorrent and unacceptable. If he and is co-defectors can bring about the downfall of the Kamal Nath Government in Madhya Pradesh, he may expect to be handsomely rewarded.

Trouble is also brewing in Rajasthan, another Congress-ruled State where Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his deputy Sachin Pilot are known to be not seeing eye to eye. After the desertion of Scindia from the Congress, many fear there will be trouble in Rajasthan. Where personal ambition rather than ideological belief and commitment gets primacy, everything is possible.

What is shocking is the total immobility of the entire Opposition. All their activity is confined to issuing press statements or holding press conferences. There is not the slightest attempt at organising mass mobilisation, of hitting the streets, of giving voice to the anger and despair of the common people who are being crushed by the deepening economic crisis. The Left has marginalised itself in national politics. Other regional parties are not showing signs of life either.

In the pervading gloom, the Congress alone, despite its organisational dystrophy and with-out a strong and determined leadership, remains the only national party with tens of thousands of devoted workers across the length and breadth of India. Given leadership and a sense of direction, they can still throw a challenge to the forces of majoritarian fascism of the BJP and frustrate its plans to transform a secular and democratic India into an authoritarian Hindu Rashtra. Further delay may land the country into a Winter of Despair for how long nobody knows.

And here arises a crucial question that Congressmen shrink even from mentioning, far less discussing. But this question has to be faced head-on. Rahul Gandhi has failed as a leader. The failure is undeniable. To survive and play its role in national politics, the Congress will have to search for a leader outside the Gandhi family. This will not be easy because the Congress has been acculturated since Indira Gandhi’s days to look for leadership only within this family. It is time to get out of this old habit and accept the truth that in the new situation and in face of new challenges, a new leader outside the family has to take over the leadership of the party. Dragging the feet on this question will be fatal for the Congress.

The author was a correspondent of The Hindu in Assam. He also worked in Patriot, Compass (Bengali), Mainstream. A veteran journalist, he comes from a Gandhian family and was intimately associated with the RCPI leader, Pannalal Das Gupta.

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