In December 2018, the Congress was reduced to ruling just two states, Punjab and Mizoram. By the end of the month, they lost power in Mizoram, but returned to power in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chattisgarh. It was a relatively good position to be in power in four key states of the Union. Just five months ahead of the general elections, the Congress seemed to have found its elixir, and was expected to swiftly bounce back from thereon. Rahul Gandhi, with his leadership skills, was viewed as the architect of triumph in these three states.
Rahul went on to stitch together alliances across the land, and retained his enthusiasm in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls. It was largely a lonely fight for him, with only a few of his senior party colleagues coming to his aid. At the hustings, however, the Congress was able to improve its seat count only marginally - from 44 to 52 (in a house of 544). This is probably why he soon resigned later as the Congress president. This was possibly due to his exasperation over being left high and dry by senior and junior party leaders in the 2019 campaign. Otherwise, within a year of taking charge, there was no reason for Rahul to resign - especially after having successfully wrested three major states away from mighty BJP. Having resigned, he could have at least avoided the month-long leadership stalemate that ensued in the party. Moreover, after reaching a stalemate, he could have at least walked away gracefully by handing over the reins to some astute senior leader or a dynamic youngster within the party. Instead, the reins were handed over to a reluctant Sonia Gandhi, who was close to retirement due to health issues. In this commotion, a much-awaited opportunity to revive the crestfallen Congress, was frittered away. Of course, both Sonia and Rahul must share the blame for the lost opportunity.
In the ensuing year, the Congress leadership managed to take just one bold step - forming a ruling coalition with the Nationalist Congress Party and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. Of course, it was Sharad Pawar who goaded pushed them into taking that step. In the same 12-month-span, the Congress also committed a blunder, by losing power in Madhya Pradesh. They failed to pacify the discontent of Jyotiraditya Scindia. But while two dozen other members of the state assembly (MLAs) prepared to quit along with Scindia, was the Congress leadership napping? Within four months of that sequence of events, we saw a repeat show playing out recently in Rajasthan. Has the Congress leadership been caught napping again? It is said that the defiant Sachin Pilot had the support of more than two dozen MLAs.
At the time of publishing this edition, Pilot and his supporters were in the mood to rebel. Whether the Congress manages to contain the rebellion, subsequent weeks will tell. It will certainly not be as smooth or simple for the Congress rebels in Rajasthan, as it was for those in Madhya Pradesh. Also, given the kind of power that the BJP currently wields, and given that Messrs Modi and Shah will use any machinations, fair or foul, to grab power, it is not unthinkable that they will still net Pilot.
In the process, however, the sympathy being dished out, consciously or subconsciously, to Messrs Pilot and Scindia is meaningless. To say that some injustice was or is being meted out to them is a fallacy. Many may disagree with this statement or conclusion. But if one goes to the root of the matter, it makes sense.
The core question is, what exactly are the contributions of Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot? The first is born into a royal family, and the other into aristocracy. Their fathers, Madhavrao and Rajesh, respectively, were former Union ministers. Both had high ambitions to rise at the Centre, in Madhavrao's case even a shot at being the Prime Minister. One of them died in an air mishap, the other in a car crash. Their careers thus came to an abrupt and untimely halt. Both had emerged as dashing young leaders within the Congress, and continued to contribute to the Party for over two decades. The same cannot be said about their scions.
The question to ask here is, what have the scions done to add to the legacy of their fathers? They are not known to have won any accolades for party-building efforts and organizational skills, or political diplomacy, or administrative excellence, or even working at the grassroots and emerging as a leader of the masses. If one asked how much have they networked or campaigned beyond their native state or Delhi, the answer would be disappointing. And yet, for the last decade and a half, the media has bloated their egos by projecting Jyotiraditya and Sachin as, "the face of young Congress leadership at the Centre".
Eighteen months ago, when the Congress returned to power in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, Scindia was 47 and Pilot 41. At that point, Pilot's record included two terms in the Lok Sabha (2004-2014), of which two years were spent as Union minister, followed by a defeat in the general elections in 2014. Then, on what basis was he hopeful of becoming a chief minister of the state. Was it not sufficient for him that Congress granted him the position of a deputy chief minister (at the same time, chief of Rajasthan Pradesh Congress also) with such limited experience, and at such a young age? Surely, some other senior leaders must have been sacrificed in the process.
The same must be true of Scindia. He served for over 17 years as a member of Parliament, which included two separate stints as a Union minister. It's true that he should have been given a greater role, but the Congress was in a multi-party coalition, and there were limits to what it could do for its own. When the party came to power in Madhya Pradesh, he could have been easily given an important ministry or the position of a deputy chief minister. But Scindia, who was not too keen to work at the state level and wanted to contest the general elections (2019), may have declined those posts. He was made the general secretary of the Congress election campaign instead. (He lost his constituency in this election). What more could his party have given him then? If his protest is about not being given a direct shot at being the chief minister, then it clearly attests that he hasn't been able to come out of his monarchical mindset!
Now some may wonder that if Jyotiraditya and Sachin have made only limited contributions, then how did more than two dozen MLAs each support them? It must be noted that historically in any Congress-ruled state assembly, in any of the major states- the sum of MLAs disgruntled within the Congress, MLAs who are up for horse-trading, and MLAs who have little chance of being re-elected, has always been around two dozen!
Also, when the Congress ascended to power in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, it chose two of its veterans- Ashok Gehlot and Kamal Nath to lead the states as chief minister. There was nothing wrong with that. These are two large states. The top job responsibility involved expanding the party in the state, doing a tightrope walk to run the state government, and fending off the machinations of a crafty BJP that is currently stronger than ever. It was not only just appropriate, but also inevitable for the Congress to appoint two of its most shrewd and seasoned politicians to the chief minister's post. And yet, several experts and analysts vehemently criticised criticized the Congress' decision as if appointing Pilot and Scindia would have ensured strong and stable party units and governments in the state. On the contrary, had the young Turks been appointed chief minister, there could have been an instant rebellion in the party legislature and BJP would have bounced back right then. Because it was possible to convince Gehlot and Kamal Nath, but not their supporters. At that time Gehlot was 67 and Kamal Nath 72. Gehlot had experience being a member of parliament (M.P.), union minister, and chief minister. Kamal Nath had been elected to parliament nine times and headed Union ministries several times over.
Both leaders rose to prominence in the 1980s. Neither of them has any royal or feudal connection. Both are highly educated and accomplished administrators. They have been Congress loyalists for four decades now. Their selection for the top post was but natural.
Ignoring this logical progression, and embarking on a risky adventure with Scindia and Pilot at that juncture would have only meant one thing for the Congress- set the party's youth leadership as an example of dynastic succession. It would have endorsed the same dynastic mindset that has become a bugbear and headache for the Congress - from the very top to the bottom.
Moreover, the party must have sensed that the two young leaders were not just less competent, they were also perhaps less loyal to the party. And now the duo has provided good evidence of their fickle loyalty. Had they been loyal, they would have continued to work for their 135-year-old party that was faced with unprecedented difficulties. They would have done their best in whatever capacity or role that came their way. Was it implausible for both of them to continue to serve the people as a Congress MP, MLA, or minister, or even as a powerful party functionary? Or do they insist that they could do so only in the top posts? And for this insistence, were they willing to cross over to the enemy? If this is the blatant brand of selfish politics that they intend to pursue, it is their call.
It is also understandable that the Congress was expected to hold on to its young Turks at any cost and retain power in this political game of chess. What is impossible is to take a sympathetic view of the duo, just in the name of youth leadership. Giving them sympathy amounts to completely discarding value-based politics in the name of realpolitik. Doing so also amounts to saying that value-based politics is the monopoly of ideology-based parties like the socialists and communists. That too is not desirable!
(Originally published in Marathi as an editorial of Weekly Sadhana (edition dated 14th of July, 2020). Translated by Sanjay Pendse.)
You can read Marathi article here: सिंधिया व पायलट यांच्याविषयी सहानुभूती नको!