The Royal Retort
Jyotiraditya Scindia revs up the Congress in Madhya Pradesh. BJP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan better take note.
The two images are difficult to reconcile to. In one, Jyotiraditya Scindia is standing in his Delhi office dressed in a white kurta-pjyama with a black Jawahar jacket and leather slip-ons that have silver buckles on them. He is looking around awkwardly as a photographer asks him to stare into a strobe light and fold his arms. “I’m horrible at photo shoots,” he mumbles, appearing every bit like a little boy who’s been asked to sing impromptu before a drawing-room gathering. In the other, he’s standing on the dais in front of 150,000 people, waving his arms like a classical music conductor in full flow, making his audience break into raptures with every flick of his elbow. “Meri Gwalior-Chambal ki janta janardhan (My people of Gwalior-Chambal),” he croons into the microphone, owning the stage and the swarm that he is addressing.
Over the last few weeks, Scindia has risen to the occasion in similar fashion. He has transformed from a withdrawn Member of Parliament on the periphery of Madhya Pradesh’s larger political game to a leader who has electrified his party cadres into believing that BJP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan could be toppled in the November 25 Assembly polls.
The tide began to turn in Madhya Pradesh almost as soon as Scindia, the 42-year-old ‘ Maharaj’ of the former princely state of Gwalior and the Union minister of state for power (independent charge), was appointed as head of the state’s campaign committee. This announcement, on September 3, was coupled with a diktat from Congress vice-president
Rahul Gandhi that the party’s other regional satraps, most notably his own close aide Digvijaya Singh, must not only cede ground but also join hands with the new heir apparent. The Madhya Pradesh Congress, for long a divided house with multiple chief ministerial aspirants, is now singing in one tune. It is drawing inspiration from this newfound unity, as the campaign to win back the state from BJP after 10 long years out of power begins in earnest.
“The biggest strength we have is that we’re united,” Scindia tells INDIA TODAY. “It’s the culmination of months of debate and discussions. We are one team, and all of us from different parts of the state ( see box) are standing together on the same stage, making a common appeal to the people. Believe it or not, the wind is blowing in our direction.”
Congress knows that defeating the hugely popular Chouhan, a son of the soil who has managed to put a BIMARU state on the road to economic development, will not be easy. The bijlisadak-paani refrain may not work against him, nor is there any scheme of profit that he is directly linked with. It’s a perception game from here to the polls, and the idea that Scindia and his colleagues are trying to instil in the electorate is that Chouhan’s celebrated achievements are lip-service. That the hype around Chouhan doesn’t mirror what he has delivered. “BJP has marketed myths instead of doing work on the ground,” Scindia alleges. “Some leaders commit less and perform more. Mr Chouhan is a leader who commits more but whose performance is zero.” The Congress chant ties in with the lack-of-development theme: ‘ Dharti aur aakash ka, Scindia naam vikas ka’ (loosely translates to: ‘Of the earth and sky, the Scindia name rings development’).
The rhetoric is catching on in various parts of the state—particularly in Congress’s key focus areas of Bundelkhand and Baghelkhand in the northern part of the state, which lag behind in development and have a large tribal population. In 2008, the tally in Bundelkhand was 14 to BJP and 8 to Congress, and in Baghelkhand 21 to BJP and 2 to Congress. Across the state, BJP had won 143 of 228 seats and Congress 71. Despite the landslide victory, the ruling BJP had got 30
SCINDIA TARGETS SOME OF CHOUHAN’S MOST FETED ACHIEVEMENTS, SUCH AS GDP GROWTH AND 24-HOUR POWER SUPPLY.
seats less than its 2003 tally, while Congress gained 33. The difference in vote share was also down from 11 per cent to 5 per cent, a trend Congress hopes will swing the state in its favour.
Scindia’s proposed ‘myth-busting’ is specifically targeted at some of the BJP government’s most celebrated achievements. Going by the Central Statistical Organisation’s provisional data for 2012-13, Madhya Pradesh is India’s top state in terms of GDP growth at 10.02 per cent. Government figures for the last 10 years show that the road network has ex-
panded from 14,700 km to 90,000 km. The area under irrigation has trebled from 7.5 lakh hectares to 25 lakh hectares. Power generation capacity has increased from 4,800 MW to 10,200 MW. Crop productivity has risen from 831 kg to 1,223 kg per hectare. And industrial investment, including industries still under construction, has multiplied tenfold, from Rs 7,935 crore to Rs 84,700 crore.
Congress counters this by bringing up the various social indicators in which Madhya Pradesh lags behind. To name two, the state’s literacy rate for women is only 60 per cent, and its infant mortality rate is 59 per 1,000 births, way below the national average of 44. Along with this, Scindia and his colleagues allege that the rise in economic indicators is either fudged or misleading. “BJP is clever in jug-
THE CONGRESS STRATEGY, COUPLED WITH AYOUNG SCINDIA RETURNING TO CLAIM HIS FAMILY LEGACY, HAS THE BJP WORRIED.
gling data,” he contends. “If Indra Dev gives bharpoor barish (If the Rain God is kind), BJP says we have given great irrigation to the state. If the kisan (farmer) works hard, they say we’ve raised productivity.”
RULING PARTY WORRIED
Scindia further alleges that though Chouhan claims to have provided 24hour electricity to almost the entire state, there are places barely a couple of hours from the capital Bhopal that get no more than six hours of power in a day. “Despite schemes such as Beti Bachao and Ladli Laxmi, the state tops in crimes against women,” he says. “People on the ground know what’s going on. They want things to change.”
Chouhan’s response to these allegations has been to reiterate what Madhya Pradesh has achieved under him, and to blame the Congress leaders for desperately lashing out at his achievements with untruths and halftruths. “I say remove poverty, they say remove Shivraj. I say source water, they say remove Shivraj,” he says.
But sources in BJP admit that the Congress strategy, coupled with the image of a young Scindia returning to claim his family legacy, has the ruling party worried. Scindia’s grandmother Vijayaraje was one of BJP’S
tallest leaders in Madhya Pradesh. His aunt Vasundhara Raje of BJP is gunning for a second term as Rajasthan chief minister. Another aunt, Yashodhara Raje Scindia, is the sitting MP from Gwalior. His father Madhavrao Scindia, whose image Jyotiraditya evokes in the masses, was a Congress Union minister. With the Prince vs Commoner refrain not finding much resonance, particularly as several members of the Gwalior royal family are deeply entrenched in BJP, Chouhan is being forced to bank on a factor he had thought he would not need—the so-called Narendra Modi wave. “To counter first-time voters drifting towards Scindia, we will take the help of Modi’s appeal among the youth. Surely, he cannot connect with them the way Modi does,” says a senior BJP leader.
Scindia laughs off Modi’s potential impact as another urban legend. “Mr Modi campaigned in Karnataka and Uttarakhand. What happened?” he asks, referring to two Assembly elections that Congress won. “Such external factors don’t win you state polls, or even Lok Sabha elections, because we are a Parliamentary democracy,” he says. “What is important is how you address the hopes and aspirations of the voters, and how you choose your candidates. We need to give tickets to people who can win.”
As he gets up to leave his office at Shram Shakti Bhawan, in the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi, Scindia declines to harbour a guess about how many seats his party will get in the polls. “I don’t want to play the projection game. But if we have the right intention…” He stutters for a moment. He’s got so used to speaking to large gatherings these days, that he finds it easier to articulate his thoughts in Hindi: “Hamara marg prashast hoga (We will be able to pave the way).” It’s a switching of linguistic codes that goes against his public school education and his years spent at Harvard and Stanford. Things are clearly changing in Scindia’s urbane world. Now can he bring about a change in his home state?
RAHUL GANDHI AND (RIGHT) JYOTIRADITYA SCINDIA AT A RALLY IN GWALIOR
MUSTAFAHUSSAIN CHIEF MINISTER SHIVRAJ SINGH CHOUHAN DURING HIS JAN ASHIRWAD YATRA