Ambition, factionalism, intrigue and betrayal mark decline of Cong

Jyotiraditya Scindia was, till recently, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s trusted lieutenant

BJP, Congress, Madhya Pradesh, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot
Sachin Pilot (left), Jyotiraditya Scindia (centre) and Congress leader Milind Deora (right). File photo: PTI

Indian astrologers believe two shadow celestial entities play an important role in every person’s life. The story goes that these entities sprang from a demon who drank amrit—the mythological elixir of life —during the churning of the ocean and was decapitated for it by Lord Vishnu. The severed head, astrologers argue, orbits the earth as Rahu, while the headless body spins around in its orbit as Ketu.

Astrology has no scientific basis and is derided as bunkum by rationalists. But, this mythological story about a headless body and a bodyless head is an apt metaphor for the Congress and its leaders today. Like Ketu, the Congress has turned into an entity whose top has fallen off and its leaders have turned into decapitated heads looking for a base.

The unfolding saga of the revolt and subsequent resignation by Jyotiraditya Scindia, whose family, incidentally, believes in tantra-mantra and the divine power of resident deity of a temple in Datia, is a telling commentary on the state of the headless Congress and its restive leaders.

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Scindia was till recently Rahul Gandhi’s trusted lieutenant. With Sachin Pilot, Milind Deora, Jitin Prasada, Bhanwar Jitendra Singh, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, and Kanishka Singh, the Gwalior ‘Maharaj’ formed a coterie that virtually ran the Congress. Within the Congress, these leaders, all dynasts, were called the ‘Babalog’ who advised Rahul ‘Baba.’ Read those names again, consider their current political trajectory, and you’d realise how ineffective Rahul has been as a leader and a friend, and how he has been serially caught in a game of betrayal.

Just before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Prasada had almost switched over to the BJP. Hooda and his ambitious father had put the gun to Rahul’s head before the Haryana assembly polls, forcing the Congress to anoint them as leaders of the state unit. Scindia is already out of the Congress with his flock and Deora is among the list of future renegades. In Rajasthan, Pilot has been blowing hot and cold, keeping the Ashok Gehlot government on the edge. In short, the Babalog have cut themselves clean from the Congress high-command and are spinning in their own personal orbits; and nobody listens to the Gandhis anymore.

In MP, a game of egos

Scindia was keen on the chief minister’s post after the Congress became the single-largest party in the 2018 elections. After several rounds of negotiations, Rahul managed to convince Scindia to step aside and let Kamal Nath get the top job. In return, Scindia was promised several things—including the post of the state Congress chief.

But, the promises were forgotten and Scindia was systemically marginalised. Kamal Nath and former chief minister Digvijaya Singh, who is considered the de-facto chief minister of MP, joined hands to keep their common rival out. The two went out of their way to humiliate him—denying even small requests like allotment of an official bungalow in Bhopal’s Char Imli area, and then rubbing it in by giving it to Nakul Nath, Kamal Nath’s son.

The tipping point came a few days ago when several trial balloons were floated to deny Scindia a Rajya Sabha seat. First, some leaders floated the idea of sending Priyanka Gandhi to the Rajya Sabha from Madhya Pradesh. Later, Scindia was told that he could at best be the second-choice candidate after Digvijaya Singh.

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Scindia, who was already sulking for the past few months, took the offer as an affront and decided to walk out of the party. In their hubris, the Kamal Nath-Digvijaya Singh factions thought Scindia might not be able to inflict much damage. They ignored the fact that at least two dozen Congress legislators are loyal to Scindia. Soon they’d pay for this by sitting in the opposition.

In any other party, the high-command would have taken note of the factional rivalry in MP. But, the Gandhis continued to listen to the chief minister, who sold them the spiel of Scindia’s inability to do any damage and refused to negotiate a truce. Considering the fact that Scindia was till recently the family’s personal friend, this apathy and incompetence is a damning indictment of their leadership.

The Congress problem

Scindia is not the first Congress heavyweight and Gandhi acolyte to walk out of the party and making the Congress pay for his marginalisation. It is part of a trend—starting with Himanta Biswa Sarma in Assam—that has been a highlight of the Rahul era.

Rahul has actually acted like Ketu, as a leader—he has rarely used his own head or shown faith in his decisions or the courage to stand by his supporters. Like a weak monarch, he has capitulated to the might of the old guard in the party, making the younger lot feel they do not have a future in the Congress.

In MP, the smarter thing to do after the results was to make Scindia the chief minister and, thus, convey the message that a new era had begun in the party. Prior to his elevation, Kamal Nath was known as a Delhi leader with no support outside Chhindwara. His critics had argued that in the past 15 years, he had come to Bhopal only thrice. Keeping him out would have not harmed the Congress. But, Rahul failed to understand this, and, worse, step in when Scindia was being repeatedly humiliated. Similarly, in Rajasthan, it would have been much more prudent to hand over the top job to Sachin Pilot. Instead, Rahul gave in to the machinations of the old guard loyal to his mother and Ahmed Patel.

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A leader who can’t make his fiat run in the organisation is just a figurehead; a puppet whose strings are held by others. In the end, such leaders turn into objects of pity and ridicule, and their impatient followers, after being betrayed or let down, start looking for better options. By letting the Ahmed Patel school of politics and its students run the Congress, Rahul has shot himself in the foot and his followers in the back. He has turned it into an old-age home that has place only for the relics of the party.

Scindia’s exit is, in all likelihood, the beginning of a fresh round of exits from the Congress; it would encourage others whose ambitions are being stifled to look for alternatives. With the Gandhis refusing to make way for others, and its younger leaders looking for better options, the Congress appears destined to become a headless entity with no direction or future.

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