Scindia quits Congress: Sidelining and unkept promises likely triggers
The repeated failure to meet political promises made to Jyotiraditya Scindia by Congress’s central leadership and Madhya Pradesh (MP) chief minister Kamal Nath, the increasing marginalisation of his supporters in the state, the refusal to take on board his political and governance related concerns, and the dominance of Digvijaya Singh in state politics were among the key factors behind Scindia’s decision to exit the grand old party and embrace the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), political leaders and analysts in the state said.
The seeds of the trouble may have been sown soon after the November 2018 state elections when the Congress formed the government with the support of four Independent lawmakers, two Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and one Samajwadi Party (SP) legislator. The Congress won 115 seats in the 230-member House and the BJP 108, ending the latter’s 15-year reign in the state .
Although the Congress’s best performance in the assembly elections was in Scindia’s bastion, northern Madhya Pradesh, he was denied CM-ship. Scindia, according to a person familiar with the development, accepted the decision gracefully.
He was then promised that his nominee would be appointed the deputy chief minister on the same day as the CM — this was not done, and subsequently, Kamal Nath insisted on two deputy CMs, which would include one of his nominees. This upset Scindia, but, once again, he decided to abide by party discipline, said the same person. In terms of the composition of the government, only seven of his supporters were appointed as ministers in the Nath government, which had a majority of those loyal to the CM and to senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh. There are 28 ministers in the state.
“Scindia accepted that too but none of the ministers were given space to perform, leading to disenchantment. Even his requests for development work in the Gwalior-Chambal region were not taken seriously,” said a Congress leader, who requested anonymity. This person added that the strain in the relationship between the two leaders had taken root early, at the very first meeting at the state Congress headquarters in December, 2018 after the party’s victory. “The campaign pictures of Nath and Scindia side by side were replaced with banners only having Nath’s photograph,” said the Congress leader. The Scindia camp saw this as a slight, for he was projected as one of the key leaders in the poll campaign.
A BJP leader, who did not want to be named, said Scindia’s disillusionment with the Congress leadership first came to light when he visited former chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Bhopal in January 2019, hardly a month after the assembly election results. “The visit was surprising as Chouhan made personal attacks on Scindia during his speeches ahead of the state assembly bypoll in April 2017 and Mungaoli and Kolaras assembly bypolls in February 2018,” the BJP leader added.
Soon after the meeting, the Congress made him general secretary in-charge of western Uttar Pradesh and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra of eastern Uttar Pradesh. While a top Congress leader claimed that this showed how the party was according him a senior role in a key battleground state, Scindia’s supporters saw it as an attempt to sideline him from state politics and relegating him to a region with which he had little connect and where the Congress was traditionally weak.
Despite that, party leaders said, Scindia campaigned for the party aggressively in the Lok Sabha polls in UP even though he was contesting the Guna Lok Sabha seat. Scindia lost in Guna and his supporters blamed sabotage for the loss as the BJP had fielded a lightweight candidate, KP Yadav, a former Congress worker, against him.
Congress leaders said that after the loss, Scindia continued to be marginalised. This was reflected in two ways — the refusal to make him the head of the party’s state unit, and refusing to heed his concerns on governance issues. Even though Scindia waited for months for clarity on the leadership issue, opposition from Nath and Digvijaya , and the refusal of the party high command to assert in his favour, led to a standstill, said a person familiar with the matter.
A second Congress leader, also on condition of anonymity, said Nath and Digvijaya Singh took all key decisions. “It appeared Scindia, despite being the face of the campaign, had no role in running the government,” he said. The MP Congress and the state government made appointments in the Gwalior-Chambal region, Scindia’s pocket borough, without even consulting him. Developmental projects in the assembly seats of MLAs considered to be close to Scindia were stalled.
“Kamal Nath appointed Scindia’s bete noire, Ashok Singh, from Gwalior as the administrator of Apex Bank [the apex cooperative bank] in July last year. A collector of Gwalior, against whom there were complaints, was shifted but he again got a prized posting as collector of Jabalpur. Similarly, a senior IPS [Indian Police Service] officer posted in the region was not shifted even though several local Congress leaders lodged complaints against him,” political analyst Dinesh Gupta said.
Over the last three months, the differences between Scindia and Kamal Nath-Digvijaya group became clear with Scindia asking the government to implement its manifesto promises including farm loan waiver of up to ₹2 lakh and an unemployment allowance for youth. Political analyst Girija Shankar said, “When Scindia said he would take to streets to get the aspirations of people fulfilled, Nath said ‘let him take to streets’’. Many read this statement — seen by Scindia’s supporters as a public insult — as the final straw.