In the high stakes battle for the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, the fate of former Congress leader turned Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia will also be sealed. This is the first assembly election that Scindia is contesting on a BJP ticket and it will test his lasting value to the saffron party.
In 2020, his rebellion against the then Congress government, with 22 Congress MLAs by his side, brought down Chief Minister Kamal Nath’s short stint and the BJP was back in the chair.
Scindia was rewarded with a union ministership at the centre which also allowed him to retain his government bungalow, something he was not too keen on giving up after losing from the Guna Lok Sabha seat in the 2019 general election.
He had left the Congress after being denied a Rajya Sabha seat and growing infighting and factionalism in the state unit. His exit was seen as a huge blow to Rahul Gandhi in particular since Scindia was very much part of the Rahul camp in the party.
Back then, Scindia was riding high even though his entry into the BJP in Madhya Pradesh created a whole new set of problems for the BJP in the state.
Many old-timers in the party resent him and blame Scindia for their sidelining within the BJP. Several of Scindia’s loyalists were appointed ministers by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan while others have got tickets for the assembly polls at the cost of veterans in the party.
Now is the real test
The real test for Scindia however comes now. Over the last year, several of Scindia’s loyalists have crossed back to the Congress, including 4 of the MLAs who had jumped ship with him. Many were upset at being denied tickets for the assembly elections.
Others have said Scindia no longer has the clout he once did in the Congress since the BJP has not given him the same responsibilities or importance.
In election posters, he is barely seen in this campaign. There has been a growing perception that Scindia just doesn’t have the same authority in Madhya Pradesh as he did when he was in the Congress party.
He did however get a boost when the Prime Minister recently attended the 125th Founder’s Day celebration of the Scindia School in Gwalior, where he heaped praise on the Scindia family and described Jyotiraditya Scindia as “the son-in-law of Gujarat”.
This is not the Scindia family’s first brush with the sangh parivar. His grandmother, Vijayaraje Scindia, was a member of the Jana Sangh, the party that predated the BJP. She went on to become an 8 time MP. Her son, Madhavrao Scindia, contested his first election in 1971 on a Jana Sangh ticket. He went on to join the Congress in 1980.
Adjusting to a new reality
For Jyotiraditya Scindia, this election is a tough one for many reasons. For one, the Scindia stronghold of Gwalior-Chambal with 34 assembly seats, has always been a Congress stronghold. 16 of the 22 Congress MLAs who joined Scindia in his 2020 rebellion are from this region.
How Scindia will do on a BJP ticket remains to be seen. Then there is the strong anti incumbency that the BJP is facing in the state.
The party has been in power here since 2003, barring Kamal Nath’s short stint from December 2018 to March 2020. There is a huge fatigue factor against Shivraj Singh Chouhan who is a four time Chief Minister of the state.
Perhaps that explains why Scindia has also changed his style of campaigning. ‘The Indian Express’ has reported how Scindia now mingles with party workers and calls himself a ‘karyakarta’ or worker instead of behaving like a Maharaja as he did when in the Congress party.
Much of that has to do with how differently the BJP functions as well, forcing Scindia to adjust to this new reality.
The Madhya Pradesh polls are therefore not just another important electoral battle for the BJP, but very much a prestige battle for Jyotiraditya Scindia and his camp. Can he pull it off? We will know on December 3.