The Royal Re­tort

Jy­oti­ra­ditya Scin­dia revs up the Congress in Mad­hya Pradesh. BJP Chief Min­is­ter Shivraj Singh Chouhan bet­ter take note.

India Today - - INSIDE - By Ku­nal Prad­han

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


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-


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.”


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?



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