Why Scindia exit will spook all Opposition parties

Why Jyotiraditya Scindia exit from Congress spells bad news for all Opposition parties

Former Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia (C) is welcomed as he joins Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in presence of BJP President JP Nadda (R), at BJP headquarters in New Delhi, Wednesday, March 11 , 2020. Also seen is BJP Madhya Pradesh state president Vishnu Dutt Sharma (L). (PTI Photo/Arun Sharma)

Although Narendra Modi dominated the Indian political scene from 2014 to 2019, but the BJP could never engineer a defection of the stature of Jyotiraditya Scindia, a top gen-next Congress leader, perceived to be in the Gandhi family’s inner circle until recently.

While Jyotiraditya’s defection is a severe blow to the Congress, what is more significant perhaps is that the tremors of his exit will be felt by all Opposition parties, not just his former party. 

By allowing Scindia to join the BJP, with a Rajya Sabha ticket from Madhya Pradesh, Modi has proved that he is ready to be magnanimous towards ‘young’ and ‘efficient’ regional leaders from outside the Sangh family. If in the near future Scindia is given an important Cabinet berth in the Commerce or Civil Aviation ministries, as is being speculated, it will prove that finally, Modi has also gained the confidence to look beyond a few old, loyal hands. That in itself will be an invitation to aspiring leaders from across the political spectrum.

Earlier, such rewards were not offered to those joining the saffron party. For instance, Mukul Roy, a close advisor to Mamata Banerjee, was not accorded such a welcome. Nor was Himanta Biswa Sarma, who also dumped the Congress for the BJP (though he was tasked with looking after the entire North-East), offered such incentives.   

It’s not surprising, therefore, that Scindia’s entry into the BJP’s Madhya Pradesh pantheon has stirred up anticipation among leaders as far away as Bengal. The rumour mills have it that a regional satrap may be offered the post of deputy chief minister if he defects at least six months before the Bengal Assembly elections to be held in April 2021. It would be an attractive offer to any non-BJP leader, because the sub-text reads clear: In case the BJP fails to capture power in the state, it can compensate for it by offering posts at the Centre.

Such an open-door policy was followed by the BJP during Atal Bihari Vajpayee days, when an outright outsider like Yashwant Sinha could become finance minister within a couple of years of joining the party. By reintroducing the same tradition, Modi has started a new talent hunt that could enrich the BJP while also attracting different non-BJP leaders and their supporters towards it. In his second term, Modi inducted S Jaishankar into the Cabinet. Though not a politician, Jaishankar’s induction was the first indication of the adoption of an open-door policy. Jyotiraditya’s induction will be a confirmation of this trend.

Regional parties will find it hard to fend off this threat because most of them, like the Congress, are family-based closed parties (except for Nitish Kumar’s JD(U)). These parties do not offer aspiring leaders a chance to climb to the top. BJP has signalled that, in contrast to them, those with ambition can do well in its fold. In fact, one may even think of Prime Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia twenty years later, where it is really Scindia’s own ability to thrive in the party in the face of tough competitors like Yogi Adityanath that will determine his growth trajectory. Of course, he will also have to be in the good books of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, but that is a different matter.

There is also another reason for the Opposition to be in despair. Jyotiraditya Scindia’s defection points to a growing weakness of the Opposition as far as building on the anti-CAA/NRC/Kashmir narrative. Congress and other opposition parties such as TMC have been trying to build on this line, but Scindia’s move shows that second-rung leaders of these parties are not in the least deterred by ideological compunctions in their decision to join the BJP goes. In other words, anti-Hindutva posturing is not paying dividends for Opposition parties.

If Jyotiraditya can join the Hindutva forces, anyone else from the Congress, TMC, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Nationalist Congress Party, or Rashtriya Janata Dal can do so too. Scindia has not only crossed over to a new camp with a sizable number of MLAs, he has also delivered a hard blow to the Opposition by refusing to play along with the line that their ideological position is worth staying back for. 

An enraged Ashok Gehlot of the Congress reacted to Scindia’s decision by tweeting: "Scindia has betrayed the trust of the people as well as the ideology." In fact, this rejection of their “ideology”,  is the biggest threat for the Congress and all other Opposition parties going forward. Perhaps, this is a sign that in case they fail to reinvent them, they may exist as alternatives only in case people are unhappy with the BJP. That is not a coveted future for these parties.

(Diptendra Raychaudhuri is a Kolkata-based journalist and author of books including, A Naxal Story. He is a deputy editor at the Bengali daily, Aajkal)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH. 

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