As the BJP is pitted against the Congress in a tough battle to retain power in Madhya Pradesh, Union Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, who is a possible chief minister candidate, has a punishing schedule. Scindia, who quit the Congress three years ago, thrives on his connect with the people. He can call more than 15,000 people in the Gwalior-Chambal region―once part of the princely state of Gwalior―by their names.
THE WEEK travelled with him to his palace in Gwalior from Pohari. Scindia is slightly hoarse, the fallout of at least half a dozen rallies a day. He treats his overworked vocal cords with warm water. At 52, Scindia is fit. He has gone gluten free, keeps away from wheat and rice, and relies on millets these days. On the campaign trail he eats rolls packed from home and he also loves his tea. While in Delhi, he spends an hour every day at his home gym.
Scindia stopped his car a few times to greet supporters who had gathered along the route with garlands. It was nearly dark as we approached the majestic Jai Vilas Palace, and the royal residence was all lit up. Scindia spoke extensively on a range of issues, including the BJP’s prospects, the Congress’s problems, the chances of him becoming chief minister and his association with Prime Minister Modi. Excerpts:
Q/ Gwalior received the UNESCO tag of the ‘City of Music’. It is a big achievement.
A/ It has always been my dream to make sure that Gwalior, which has been the seat of the Gwalior gharana in the past 400 to 500 years, gets its due recognition. With that in mind, I pursued both the culture ministry and UNESCO. Gwalior has the world’s greatest musicians like Tansen. Not many people know that Baiju Bawra belonged to Gwalior. We also have the illustrious Gwalior gharana from Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan to Amjad Ali Khan, from Laxman Rao Pandit to his daughter Meeta Pandit. This recognition was very much awaited. I must thank Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the culture minister and UNESCO for making this dream a reality.
Q/ Will these elections witness a symphony between the BJP and the voters? There are many discordant notes.
A/ Election is a concept of making a melody out of a cacophony. The only way you can do that is with unity in feeling and in tempo, and also unity in both the notes and the amplitude of the octaves. What we have shown in the BJP is the ability to ensure that we have sustained development in Madhya Pradesh across all social justice indicators.
Madhya Pradesh was at the bottom in 2003, but because of the hard work of successive chief ministers Uma Bharti, Babulal Gaur and Shivraj Singh Chouhan, today the state is at the top of social, infrastructure and economic livelihood indicators. Our per capita income in 2003 was 011,172, which has now grown to Rs1.40 lakh, a 12-fold increase. Our irrigated area was 7.68 lakh hectares, which is now over 48 lakh hectares, an increase of seven times. I built this road (pointing to the highway outside) in 2010. It was a two-lane highway, it has four lanes now, going from Gwalior to Shivpuri, Guna, Dewas and Indore where Rs4,000 crore has been spent. The road network in the state in 2003 was only 44,000km which has grown to five lakh kilometres, a 12-fold increase. The number of doctors increased from 7,510 to 50,000. Power production has gone up from 5,000 megawatt to 29,000 megawatt. Schemes like the PM Awas Yojna, Ujjwala Yojna, Ladli Laxmi Yojna, Ladli Behna Yojna and the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi have empowered citizens across the state.
I am very confident that it will translate into a beautiful melody between the people of Madhya Pradesh and the BJP on November 17 (polling date) and the recital will hopefully be heard on December 3 (counting date).
Q/ Twenty years is a long time for voter fatigue to set in.
A/ Did you see any voter fatigue today (at his rally)? There is a difference between what you discuss in your newsrooms and the ground reality. When you talk about voter fatigue and anti-incumbency, that is what Madhya Pradesh experienced in 2003 when the Congress was routed. It got 37 seats out of 230, that was anti-incumbency, that was voter fatigue. Today, Madhya Pradesh is looking forward to the BJP retaining power because the public knows that they are safe with the BJP. They had 55 years of Congress rule and an 18-month rule in 2018 when corruption was rampant. The transfer industry was flourishing. Going back on promises and backstabbing were rampant. I am confident that the people of Madhya Pradesh do not want to see that phase again.
Q/ Isn’t the battle tough for the BJP in many seats?
A/ Elections mean struggle. If you think that you can sail through without any hard work, then it is not possible. Notwithstanding one’s stature, one has to work hard. Only then one will get blessed.
Q/ Many people left the BJP after the distribution of tickets.
A/ There is only one ticket [per constituency], but there are many claimants. It can be given to only one person. But if you still want to contest, then no one can stop you. You can contest as an independent. My best wishes to all such people. There is dissent only in three or four seats, but look at the Congress where people are tearing each other’s clothes, power of attorney is being given to [someone else] (referring to Kamal Nath’s statement on Digvijaya Singh), abusing each other, burning each other in effigies.
Q/ You are a strong contender for the chief minister’s post.
A/ I am not. The same question was asked in 2018 when Kamal Nath’s name and my name were floated. Then, too, I had said that I was not in the race. After the elections, his name was considered, and without wasting any time I said that he should be made the chief minister and that we would support him. It is the decision of the party whom they want to make the chief minister. I am not in politics, I am in jan sewa (public service). If you heard my speech, it was on development and growth. I am neither a king nor a kingmaker. I am an ordinary worker who wants to strengthen the party.
Q/ The prime minister called you the son-in-law of Gujarat.
A/ It is my good luck that I got the chance to work under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It was an emotional moment when he attended a private function (Founder’s Day at Scindia School, Gwalior), and spoke about my family. My grandmother, my father and I, all of us have valued emotional connect. We think and act with our hearts. We cannot do politics or be diplomatic. We go by emotions. Wherever we connect emotionally, we are ready to even lay down our lives.
Q/ What if the post of chief minister is offered to you?
A/ I don’t answer hypothetical questions.
Q/ The BJP has brought in many central leaders and MPs to contest this time in Madhya Pradesh. Is it because of the tough nature of the contest ?
A/ Had you done your analysis, you would have realised that both the BJP and the Congress have their own strong seats. Our strategy is to strengthen our strong seats, and target the strong seats of the Congress and try to weaken them. The first list of candidates was for those Congress strongholds. The central leaders, including ministers and MPs, have been brought in for those seats. Our strategy is to keep our pocket boroughs strong and breach the Congress strongholds.
Q/ The BJP is talking about collective leadership. Don’t you think it confuses the voters about the chief minister face?
A/ What is the confusion? If you heard my speeches, how much time did I spend on Shivraj Singh Chouhan? Did you find any confusion in my speeches? There would have been confusion had I not taken his name. I devoted 70 per cent of my speech to him. There should be collective leadership as the BJP is a cadre-based party. Everyone has a role. In this collective leadership, the maximum contribution is by Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
Q/ You have been in the BJP for three years now. You seem to be fully integrated, but what about your supporters?
A/ I have to learn from some people who have adapted so fast. BJP workers say these [Scindia supporters] are better BJP workers. I must also tell you that the BJP is not a new party for me. It was founded by my grandmother (Vijaya Raje Scindia), my father started his career with the Jana Sangh. Since my childhood, I have interacted with BJP leaders. I have been in Parliament for 20 years where I had close relations with BJP members.
Q/ What is your take on the guarantees offered by the Congress? People were swayed in Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh.
A/ The party which did the 2G (spectrum) will do 5G (guarantees). They will repeat the scam they did in 2G. How will anyone believe them after they failed to fulfill guarantees like waiving off farmer loans, giving unemployment allowance or regularising teachers? What is left in their 5G, when we have already fulfilled those? They talked about 100 units of free electricity, we are already giving it. To their promise of paying Rs1,500 (monthly assistance to women), we are already giving Rs1,250 and would take it further to Rs3,000. They said they would give gas cylinders at Rs500, we are already giving it at Rs450. They are promising, but we have already delivered. People will decide between false guarantees and delivery.
Q/ How do you look at the 2024 Lok Sabha elections?
A/ In 2024, under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi, the BJP will be elected with a massive majority.