Jyotiraditya Scindia is the young face of aspirational politics in the Congress. He is one of the important national leaders of the party. He is often used for campaigning across India during polls. After Rahul Gandhi, he was the most sought-after leader during the Gujarat polls. The Stanford-educated Scindia is the scion of the erstwhile Gwalior state, which was one of the biggest princely states in British India.
In an interview with THE WEEK at his 27, Safdarjung Road, official residence in New Delhi, he spoke at length on the strategy of Congress in the coming days and shared his views on what Congress should do to fight the formidable BJP.
When will the rough phase for the Congress end?
Every party goes through ups and down. Don’t forget that the resurgent BJP, which you are referring to, was 282 in 2014 is now at 271. They have lost so many by-elections in last two years. The same BJP was at just two seats in 1984.
At the grassroots level, I believe the Congress is extremely strong. By saying so I do not mean in assembly polls or municipal polls but we are quite strong at the booth level. But what is most important for us, I believe, is to first come out with a clear charter of what we want to achieve in the states if we are brought to power there. So, a succinct state-specific charter must be prepared.
Second, we also have to have a national blueprint as there are hardly eight-nine months left for general elections. Along with that, I do believe that one of the biggest areas where Congress needs to concentrate is developing new talent in the states. While nurturing them, focus can be on choosing the landscape for the 543 contestants for the Lok Sabha polls. Today, the people of India have realised the yawning gap between the promises made by this government and the reality. In these four years it has dawned upon our electorate that it is the Congress that promises little less but delivers much more.
But why are you constantly losing in Hindi heartland to BJP?
I don’t agree with you. If you look at the last four years and the by-elections held in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, south India, and most recently in Maharashtra, Congress has emerged as a formidable opponent to BJP. These by-poll results show that we have moved away from the 2014 debacle or the state elections held immediately after that. It takes time for things to plateau and then rise again. I think now we are at the beginning of that rise and at the cusp of that plateau under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi, which is very strong, direct and clear.
Has anything changed inside Congress after Rahul Gandhi’s leadership?
Yes, I think so. Now, we are seeing a much more clearer strategy in terms of what our vision is, and also in terms of functioning at state level. Now, we have much more monitoring and scrutiny from the Centre. My state is a case in point where not only a general secretary but four-five secretaries and divisional coordinators have been appointed. Now we have a much more accountable system where local people are also held responsible.
How well prepared are you for the polls in three states this year and to the Lok Sabha next year?
Preparation is a process, it’s not an event. As far as the process is concerned, at least in Madhya Pradesh we are ensuring that we have our people at every polling booth. We have ensured that we are not looking at a top-down approach but a bottom-up approach. Now, on one hand, we look at district-level committees along with the booth-level committees being set up. In my 16 years of political experience, booth level organisation is the key to success going forward.
Your party did not trust you to lead in Madhya Pradesh. Did it affect your morale?
I think that depends on what an individual’s priorities in life are. If your priorities are ‘yourself’ than surely it will have an impact but if the priorities are serving the people and using politics as means to that end than it is nothing. I believe in Hindu philosophy, which has been corrupted by the BJP government, that you have to be a cog in the wheel to achieve your end goal of serving your people. Whatever decision my party takes for me, is important for me and I make sure that through it I serve my people. Today, I have been given the responsibility of ‘Campaign Committee Chief’ in my state and I will try to deliver best out of it. The PCC chief Kamal Nath and I share a great working and personal relation. We will work together to unseat BJP and ensure that a government is formed which serves the people.
This is the best chance for Congress to form the government in Madhya Pradesh but the party is struggling with the basics. Nothing has been done in the last two months.
I will change your question. It’s not the best chance, it’s the only chance. It’s a do-or-die battle. Let’s not forget that when a new dispensation comes, it takes a little time. It takes 30-45 days to understand the rubrics and the environment. If you rush headlong without going through the osmotic process of understanding your environment you may land up in the causality ward. So, it is much better to be osmotic at the start and take everybody’s views and then prepare a force with the amalgamation of everyone’s views. We are not like the BJP where Mr Narendra Modi is the repository of all the knowledge on the earth. We are a people’s party, and, therefore, we take on board everybody’s view. We are listening to everyone before our final strategy is formulated. That’s the process we are undergoing. In a couple of days or next week, you will see all the backlogs of announcements being made and then we will chart our path.
Why is Congress unable to make people believe that it is a formidable answer to the ruling BJP?
I don’t agree to you on that. If you look at Madhya Pradesh, in last one year, we have won five by-elections. Two were in my Lok Sabha constituency. I think people are ready for change but it is important for Congress to reach out to the electorate and come out with a charter of what is wrong with BJP and what we will deliver. We are working on that charter as to what we will do if voted to power.
Farmers and dalit unrest across north India is increasing. How does Congress see it?
Well, the first thing is that, unlike our political opponents, we do not see it as an opportunity. We see this as a sorry and sad thing to happen. Our hearts go out to all those families who lost their near and dear ones. Both these incidents on June 6 last year in Mandsaur and April 2 across north India... for us, the devastations, tragedies and calamities are not opportunities. For us, they are moments of bereavements, moments of loss. Having said that, there was an environment which was created in the country, which has led to these incidents. Farmers have been continuously trampled upon for last four years. They were promised many things but none of that happened. On the other hand, input costs have risen exponentially by 60-70 per cent and output revenue has fallen. That cry of despair has been spilling on to the streets of India and that is why framers are throwing onions, tomatoes and milk on the streets. How do you explain that?
With regard to the second part of the question there is a pogrom in place to create this atmosphere of intolerance and insecurity in our country towards minorities, scheduled caste, scheduled tribes, media, writers and judiciary. Even parliamentarians are not spared. They did not even allow the opposition to have a no-confidence motion in Madhya Pradesh assembly. Holding monsoon session of assembly just for a day and half, points towards the direction where BJP wants to take this country. It is the highest level of hierocracy for them to preach about Emergency. It’s actually absurd for BJP and the prime minster to speak about Emergency when there is an 'undeclared emergency’ in our country for the past four years. Those who are criticising the Congress today have strangulated the voices across the country including the Parliament. It’s my way or highway or my voice and no one’s voice. What is the concept of ‘Mann ki Baat’ —125 crore people of this country must listen to one voice? Instead of one person listening to the voices of 125 crore people. This is not true democracy. The actual meaning of democracy, if you go by Greek ethos, is that space where everyone’s voice is heard. But here, there is one voice which is echoing through 125 crore people with no re-echo.
Why is Congress not able to connect with the youth?
I don’t agree that we are not able to connect with the youth. Don’t forget that we won 206 seats in 2009, and we have a young president today. We have the highest number of youth in terms of MLAs, MPs and people in responsible posts. I define the age of youth from the age we get elected that is 25 to lets say, approximately 50. I am at the cusp (laughs). But having said that, we will have to go to the youth with a new blueprint.
How will you counter BJP's politics of polarisation?
I think the BJP undermines the intellect of our electorate. There is an old saying that says you can fool all the people some of the time but not all of them all the time. The people of India have seen through the design and illusion created by the BJP. If the BJP think that they can run a divisive agenda throughout the country, they are forgetting the ethos of our age-old country. Our Hindu philosophy and civilisation is based on an amalgamation of various culture and viewpoint of every single individual. If any organisation tries to further itself by creating a wedge and dividing the people, and thinks that it can retain its political hegemony, it is highly mistaken.
How will alliances help or not help the Congress?
The philosophy of India has been “vasudhaiva kutumbakam” (the world is my family), and unity in diversity. If you have national interest at heart, which today is paramount not only in terms of India’s economic progress but in keeping the edifice of India together which is being challenged by the BJP, you have to work together. Secularism, unity, tolerance, freedom of speech and expression are the most defining tenets of India’s democracy as defined in our Constitution, which are being challenged. There may states where you are the formidable force, I must respect that. And vice versa. It is through this feeling of fraternity and brotherhood that we will again redefine India’s concept of vasudhaiva kutumbakam against this unitary system in which BJP believes in. Look at the way BJP has treated their coalition partners. One nation, one language, one religion is their maxim.
Why are many potential allies keeping a distance from the Congress?
Give it a little time. India has been characterised as an elephant because we take a little time to come together but when we do it is the might of the elephant that comes together. So, we may move slowly but India will emerge like we did during economic liberalisation when we emerged as an economic superpower.
Is the Congress willing to sacrifice more, like it did in Karnataka, for the sake of alliance against the BJP?
When a pre-poll alliance is put together, generally the party with the highest number of seats has the right to nominate the leader who then takes the mantle of the prime minister. But all these things will be decided in due course of time. I do believe that Mr Rahul Gandhi has all the capabilities to lead our country. I do hope, in 2019, he will lead our country in a coalition government.
What do you have to say on the importance of allies like Mayawati and Tejashwi Yadav?
I believe that India is an amalgam of talent, capabilities and personalities. In politics, personalities make huge difference. Not only the leaders mentioned by you but many other leaders are revered in many parts of the country. Alliance depends on the state. At the end of the day, let’s not forget that when you have a coalition government for 30-35 years, it is not the Centre that is powerful, it is the personalities, parties and states which actually come together who put the government at the Centre. Politics in our country has changed completely in last three decades. It has moved from being the hegemony of the Centre to being the power of the states that propel a government at the Centre. It has moved from being a top-down to bottom-up country. The true route of the Congress's revival is to make itself powerful and strong in states.