The inevitable has happened. The internecine tension between the old guard and generation next in the Congress has drawn first blood with the estrangement and subsequent exit of Jyotiraditya Scindia, the scion of the Gwalior royal family, who was once the apple of the Nehru-Gandhi family’s eyes.
The umbilical cord that tied the presiding deities of the party － Sonia and Rahul Gandhi －with the Scindias is a thing of the past. With Jyotiraditya Scindia formally joining the BJP and being nominated as its candidate for a Rajya Sabha seat in Madhya Pradesh, the bad blood between the old guard and the younger elements in the party is now starkly manifest.
The schism symbolises the deep fissures in today’s Congress, which is why the party is in a state of drift. For Sonia Gandhi, her son Rahul’s interests are paramount and anyone who even obliquely comes in his way is a pariah. Scindia was a favoured one so long as he was in Rahul’s shadow － the day he attempted to come out of it and chart out an independent course he was deemed unacceptable.
The satraps in the party － the old guards － are taking advantage of the fact that the interim Congress chief Sonia Gandhi is considerably weakened by the party’s electoral reverses, her poor health and now by the desertion of a much-trusted lieutenant who was by design being sidelined and ignored by the party.
Rahul Gandhi, on his part, has slipped into indifference, ignoring conclaves of the Congress and of the Opposition in general even when he is in India. He still rants and makes some outrageous noises from time to time but he carries the tag of a failed leader who has no takers and little credibility worth the name.
Scindia was upstaged by wily Kamal Nath who grabbed the ‘gaddi’ in MP 15 months ago. When Scindia lost the Lok Sabha election last year it was widely suspected that Kamal Nath had a role in his defeat. Young Jyotiraditya Scindia was smarting under that but could not say so openly for fear of being reprimanded by the party leadership.
After the last MP assembly elections in 2018, Scindia’s hopes of donning the chief ministerial mantle were dashed when he met Rahul and was told that the party had decided on Kamal Nath － then 72 － for the chief ministerial role. He was told that he would get the state Congress president's post but even as he waited and waited, he was ignored. He tried to meet Sonia and Rahul but there was no response from them.
Sensing his frustration, the BJP was quick to woo Scindia to cross over to it and take the Rajya Sabha nomination on a platter which the Congress high command did not seem willing to give to him.
Scindia’s loyalists had seen how the anti-defection law had been circumvented by the Congress defectors to BJP in Karnataka earlier with near-immediate elections after they were disqualified for voting against the Congress party whip. The people had elected them back so their disregard of the defection law had been neutralised in quick time.
While six former ministers of the Kamal Nath government were sacked by the chief minister promptly, the other 16 were yet to be dealt with when the adjournment of the assembly threw the system into a tizzy.
While Kamal Nath who has lost his majority is now claiming that the legislators who have been typically whisked away to a resort in Bengaluru have been forced by the opposition to stay away from the Congress, the legislators have gone on record to say that they are not being pressurised but have consciously come out of Kamal Nath’s grip.
Significantly, the exit of Scindia from the Congress has attracted attention to another efficient ‘Young Turk’ Sachin Pilot who has been similarly unhappy with another old guard Ashok Gehlot who was preferred over him when it came to choosing a chief minister for Rajasthan. As a consolation prize, Pilot was made deputy chief minister but he was shunned and sidelined.
It now remains to be seen whether the Sonia-Rahul duo would be chastened by Scindia’s exit and whether they would give Pilot a better deal to stave off his exit from the party which would be a catastrophe for the Congress. There are others in the youth brigade too, like Milind Deora, Kuldeep Bishnoi, Sandeep Dikshit and Jitin Prasada who are frustrated and looking to take the exit door.
The Congress is indeed on the precipice. So long as it continues to have Sonia and Rahul as its prime leaders, there is little hope for it. In the unlikely event of these torch-bearers of the Nehru-Gandhi family quitting or stepping aside there would inevitably be a power struggle which could turn ugly between the old guard and the new blood.
For now, it is Madhya Pradesh that holds the key. If Kamal Nath somehow holds out and cobbles together a majority, though it seems unlikely, the old guard would sense victory, however brief it may be.
The BJP top brass is grinning from ear to ear seeing how its main rival party is self-destructing.
The writer is a political commentator and columnist. He has authored four books.