Book House The Lead

What conspired when Jyotiraditya Scindia quit Congress and joined the BJP

Jyotiraditya Scindia joining the BJP in presence of BJP president J.P. Nadda
  • The book “The House of Scindias” by political analyst and journalist Rasheed Kidwai is the most definitive and revealing biography of the Scindias, the Gwalior royals.


  • The fascinating book describes the political intrigue, palace conspiracies, cut-throat rivalry, betrayals and property wars of the Scindias.


  • The book also takes a look at one of India’s most talked about political dynasties, as the family has given India many statespersons across party lines and has seen a member serve in parliament or a state assembly for over 60 years.


  • Read an excerpt from the book below.


Jyotiraditya carefully chose the day of his rebellion: his father’s seventy-fifth birth anniversary 10 March. Jyotiraditya posted a letter on Twitter that was addressed to Sonia, the Congress’s interim chief. The letter announced his resignation from the Congress.

Minutes after he posted his resignation, the Congress expelled Jyotiraditya for ‘anti-party activities’ – just as P.V. Narasimha Rao had expelled Madhavrao in 1996 when he had resigned from the Congress.

Madhavrao had formed his own party, the Madhya Pradesh Vikas Congress, and even managed to defeat a few Congress candidates in the 1996 general elections.

This was not the first time that a Scindia had joined the BJP. As chapters in this book have mentioned, Jyotiraditya’s grandmother, Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia had left the Congress in 1967 to join the Jana Sangh and later in 1980, became the founder of the BJP while Jyotiraditya’s aunts, Vasundhara Raje and Yashodhara Raje, rose to become senior BJP leaders.

Both the aunts welcomed his entry into the party. Moments after her nephew joined the BJP, Yashodhara, who served as a minister in Chouhan’s cabinet, said that she hoped aunt and nephew would prove to be a good combination in Madhya Pradesh politics. ‘Very happy today. Govt will be formed under SS Chouhan’s leadership. We’re happy as I’ve worked under him; I know what wonderful schemes we had for people; today we don’t have those,’ Yashodhara tweeted minutes after Jyotiraditya joined the BJP in a brief ceremony at the party headquarters in Delhi. ‘Best wishes to my nephew, hope we’ll have a good aunt–nephew combination,’ she added.

Yashodhara, who had described her nephew’s move to join the BJP as gharvapsi (homecoming), added that the political differences among the Scindia family members were a thing of the past now. ‘Family was divided into two as there were two different political parties. It’s natural that if you have political differences, it seeps into the family too. This step has made all small issues of differences to go away. We’re on one stage now,’ she was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.

Jyotiraditya’s other aunt, former Rajasthan chief minister, Vasundhara Raje, echoed similar sentiments while welcoming him into the BJP. ‘Good to be on the same team,’ she remarked, while lauding her nephew’s strength of character and courage to put ‘the nation first’. ‘If Rajmata Sahab was here today, she would be elated to see you put the #NationFirst. I admire your strength of character and courage. It’s good to be on the same team. Welcome to the BJP.’ Vasundhara tweeted.

However, noted columnist, Coomi Kapoor, was not convinced that the reunion between the aunts and the nephew was all hunky-dory. Writing in the Sunday Express, Kapoor, author of an immensely readable book on the Emergency, observed, ‘Whatever their public posturing, Jyotiraditya Scindia’s two aunts in the BJP, Vasundhara Raje and Yashodhara, are not exactly thrilled about their nephew joining the party. The longstanding family feud is not about different political ideologies but over the inheritance of the vast Scindia estate. It was not Scindia’s aunts but his in-laws from the Gaekwad royal family of Baroda, Gujarat, who opened a channel for him with Narendra Modi. Amit Shah backs the anti-Vasundhara Raje faction in Rajasthan, while Yashodhara was marginalised as a minister by Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh.’

Jyotiraditya and his otherwise media-savvy aunts chose not to react to Coomi’s observations, as if deliberately.

Chouhan welcomed Jyotiraditya once the Congress rebel had been formally drafted into the BJP, but his speech did not go unnoticed when he referred to Jyotiraditya as ‘Vibhishan’ – Ravan’s younger brother in the Ramayana who deserted his brother to join the rival camp.

At the state BJP office in Bhopal, Chouhan, known to measure his words, remarked while welcoming Jyotiraditya, ‘Kamal Nath, till we don’t destroy your Lanka of terror and corruption, we will not sit in peace. To destroy Lanka, one needs Vibhishan. Today Jyotiraditya Scindia is with us,’ Chouhan said.

The reference to Vibhishan, someone who turned against his own family, is not the most flattering and for the ‘maharaj of Gwalior’, the tag of a betrayer can hardly be desirable, said Rakesh Dixit, a Bhopal-based political commentator.

Earlier in February 2020, the acrimony between Jyotiraditya and Nath had become visible when the former threatened to take to the streets if the Madhya Pradesh government failed to fulfil its promise to waive farm loans. His comment in Hindi, ‘man sadak par utar jayonga [I will hit the streets]’, received a quick retort, ‘to utar jayein [do it]’.

Nath had many times tried to reason with Jyotiraditya, pointing out that poll manifesto promises were meant to be fulfilled in five years, not in a few months.

Jyotiraditya’s exit led to the fall of the fifteen-month-old Nath government. When the elections were held in Madhya Pradesh in November–December 2018, the margin of the Congress’s victory was extremely thin. In the 230-member assembly, the Congress had won 114 seats and the BJP 109. The BSP won two, the Samajwadi Party one and independents four seats. The number required to form the government was 116. The Congress was two short, but managed to cobble up an alliance with the BSP, SP and independents. This is how Nath’s government survived for fifteen months. But when Jyotiraditya defected, twenty-two Congress MLAs walked out and took shelter in a resort in BJP-ruled Karnataka. They tendered their resignations from the Madhya Pradesh Assembly, reducing the Nath regime to a minority. Nath tried hard to bring back the disgruntled lot and even offered them ministerial posts, but the MLAs bluntly refused.

The strength of the Congress in Madhya Pradesh has been due to regional satraps. Traditionally, Nath held sway in Mahakaushal while Digvijaya was a leader from Madhya Bharat. Arjun Singh and, later, his son, Ajay Singh, aka Rahul Bhaiya, were leading lights from the Vindhya region. The others hailed from Bundelkhand and Malwa. For decades, each regional satrap had focussed on a region of his influence, contributing to the party’s strength. But in March 2020, the strength of regional satraps became a huge liability.

Towards the end of his association with the Congress, Jyotiraditya’s feud was not so much with Nath but with another regional satrap, Digvijaya. The rivalry between Digvijaya and the Scindias goes back several decades. Jyotiraditya’s father, Madhavrao, resented Digvijaya’s spectacular rise that saw the former raja of Raghogarh twice become the chief minister, from 1993 to 2003. The Raghogarh principality falls under the erstwhile Gwalior empire of the Scindias. Senior Congress leaders of that era felt that Madhavrao could not stomach someone hailing from their turf going on to rule all of Madhya Pradesh.

When Madhavrao died in an air crash on 30 September 2001, some felt that his lifelong ambition of becoming chief minister had remained unfulfilled. Madhavrao’s death had initially brought a young Jyotiraditya close to Digvijaya, albeit briefly.

Speaking in Jyotiraditya’s parliamentary constituency Guna in 2008, Digvijaya had described the then MP as a ‘polished diamond’ and himself as an ‘astute’ judge of gems.

However, the temporary truce had ended abruptly. At one point, Digvijaya even went to the extent of propping up Jyotiraditya’s rival, Sachin Pilot, within the party as a counterbalance to the young maharaja. For instance, as chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Digvijaya had once invited Pilot to tour the Gwalior belt, knowing that this wouldn’t go down well with Jyotiraditya.

Nath too did the same during 3 November 2020 by-polls in twenty-eight assembly seats, inviting Pilot to campaign in seventeen assembly segments in the Gwalior–Chambal region. The outcome was these assembly polls were not encouraging for the Congress. The BJP won nineteen out of the twenty-eight assembly constituencies, consolidating Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s hold over the state.

Going back to Digvijaya, the former chief minister had cemented his equation with Nath during his 1993–2003 tenure as the Congress chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. He would often tell his colleagues in a lighter vein, ‘Of the 45 districts in the state, I rule over 44 while the 45th is Nath’s.’

All the postings in Nath’s district, Chhindwara, were subject to his approval and he was known as the Bada Bhai [elder brother] and one whose writ ran large in the state. By the time Nath became chief minister in December 2018, the buzz in Bhopal was, ‘Kamal Nath is Digvijaya Singh by another name’.

It would be an exaggeration to say that Jyotiraditya was not given enough chance to excel in Madhya Pradesh politics. In the 2008, 2013 and 2018 assembly polls, he was made head of the Congress campaign committee. However, often his campaign meals turned out to be far more lip-smacking than the electoral outcome. In the 2008 polls, none of the candidates fielded by the Congress MP from Guna, his constituency, tasted victory. While Chief Minister Chouhan and other Madhya Pradesh BJP leaders toiled day and night, some felt Jyotiraditya’s focus wavered towards the dinner table.

Reporters covering his campaign recalled that before the former royal would fly to a campaign site, his family cook, Ravi Thapa, would be there, preparing his meal. If it was spaghetti with ginger chicken in Chanderi, it was chicken in tartar sauce at some other venue. Once the elections were over, sumptuous meals gave way to food for thought on whether the maharaja was cut out for a full-time role in state politics.

Excerpted with permission from The House of Scindias: A Saga of Power, Politics and Intrigue, Rasheed Kidwai, Roli Books. Read more about the book here and buy it here.

 

The Dispatch is present across a number of social media platforms. Subscribe to our YouTube channel for exciting videos; join us on Facebook, Intagram and Twitter for quick updates and discussions. We are also available on the Telegram. Follow us on Pinterest for thousands of pictures and graphics. We care to respond to text messages on WhatsApp at 8082480136 [No calls accepted]. To contribute an article or pitch a story idea, write to us at [email protected] |Click to know more about The Dispatch, our standards and policies