Two arguments, among others, have emerged prominently in the wake of Jyotiraditya Scindia’s decision to quit the Congress party and joining the Bhartiya Janata Party(BJP). First: it has inflicted irreparable damage on the Congress party and would open floodgates for other ambitious leaders to emulate. Second: by joining the BJP, Jyotiraditya scindia has gone back to where he really belonged; a case of Ghar Wapasi as his aunt Yasodhararaje Scindia put it.
Scindia’s decision to quit the Congress is not going to harm Congress as enormously as it is being argued. In India’s national politics today, the worth of each politician should be evaluated based on his/her mass appeal and social base against Narendra Modi, who clearly has emerged unrivaled mass leader with pan-India appeal in the post-Indira Gandhi era.
Given that Scindia could not even win his Guna seat, a family bastion, and lost it to an ordinary challenger -- BJP’s K P Yadav -- speaks volumes his mass appeal. His defection and ability to mobilize few MLAs that could pull down Congress government, it is true, is a major jolt; but given that Congress has faced similar fate in Karnataka -- which shows more of the BJP’s ability to outsmart the the grand old party than Scindia’s game plan, who seems more a pawn in the BJP’s larger game.
Among the most damaging defections from Congress in the recent decades was that of V P Singh -- in the late 1980s -- who not only left the party but formed a new government in New Delhi by defeating Rajiv. Others such as Mr. Sharad Pawar and Mamata Banerjee -- both went on to form their own parties -- largely regional in nature. Clearly, Scindia is not capable of doing any of these. Therefore, the damage he has done or likely to do remains very limited. His impact on Kamal Nath government is again mainly the narrow majority the Congress government earned in 2018 elections, which has made it vulnerable.
Furthermore, nothing appears more ludicrous than looking at these developments from the ideological lens of India’s electoral politics. The truth is Indian politics has been purely dictated by pragmatism and opportunism for a very long time, particularly since mid 1970s. However, we need to recognize the BJP is a majoritarian party, an ideology that is in contradiction with India’s core Constitutional aspirations.
What is not happening in the recent years is a serious ideological battle in India’s electoral politics -- not even even secularism versus Hindtuva. Whatever little ideological battle is witnessed is mainly launched by intellectuals, civil societies but not by major parties, who are more into rhetoric and tokenism. Failure of opposition parties to unite against Modi’s BJP in 2014 and in 2019 is an example of this.
The last time a serious ideological clash occured around the issue on secularism against the BJP’s brand of Hindutva was in 1996, when a moderate leader like Atal Bihari Vajpayee was not allowed to run his BJP-led coalition government more than 13 days. Many stalwats of the anti-BJP coalition of that period were Vajpayee’s comrade in arms in 1977 anti-emergency movement and 1989 anti- corruption movement against Rajiv Gandhi, and yet opposed him fiercely and pulled down his government. Anything of that kind is not seen afterwards, and definitely not in 2014 or 2019, which is the most unfortunate development.
What is, however, interesting is to examine the historical relationship between between Scindias and Muslims and how it will shape Scindia’s position on the BJP’s Hindutva ideology.
History of Scindias, which can be traced to 18th century is far older than that of politics of Hindutva the RSS or Bhartiya Jana Sangh or BJP of today represent, which is mostly the 20th century phenomenon. The word Scindia is derived from Maharashtrian word, Scinde. The members of family began their career as soldiers and later emerged as Maratha ruler of the present day Gwalior state in course of time. Life histories of two prominent figures in Scindia dyansty would inform that the family despite having worked under Shivaji's army had a special relationship with Muslims, and they were no bigots.
The family traces its origin to a village Kanerkeda, near Satara in Maharashtra. In 1722, the Scindia dynasty was established by Ranojirao Scindia. But the most prominent and fascinating figure in the family history is Mahadji Scindia, who took part in the third battle of Panipat in 1761. In this battle, Mahadji Scindia was injured seriously and was saved by Rane Khan, a water carrier. In 1765, Mahadji seized Gwalior, and Rane Khan was made a jagirdar of the Scindias and Mahadji declared him his brother. During his time, Scindias had the largest empire that stretched from Rajasthan desert to the Bay of Bengal. Even after conquering Delhi, Mahadji took care to maintain Mughal Emperor as the titular head.
Mahadji further treated Baba Mansur Shah, a Muslim as his Guru. Scindias venerate Mansur Baba’s tomb even today. Every year in September, Baba’s Urs ceremony continues to be held by the head of the family in Gwalior. Despite being a great ruler and warrior, Mahadji had nine wives and three daughters, but no son. He adopted Daultatrao, his cousin’s son, and that is how dynasty moved further to the present.
Other prominent figure of Scindia dynasty was Madhav Maharaj, whose son was Jiwajirao, grand father of Jyotiraditya Scindia. An interesting episode of his time that would demonstrate how deep their connection was with Muslims. In 1925, a fire broke out at Imam Bara prepared for the Muharram function. Taziya was burnt and the procession was delayed by two hours. “Tazia is not burnt. I am burnt,” said Madhav Maharaj. Apparently, tears roll down while Madhav Maharaj rode through the streets on that day along with the Moharram procession, write Vir Sanghvi and Namita Bhandare in their biography of Madhavrao Scindia.
Given this history, it is interesting to explore how the family got drawn to Jana Sangh politics or modern day Hindutva politics. Some argue it was Vijayaraje Scindia, who got drifted to Jana Sangh politics owing to the power struggle she had with Dwarka Prasad Mishra, former Congress Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, also known as Chanakya of his time. That is because Mishra played the key role in the election of Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister by defeating the syndicate after the death of Shastri.
It is well known that Rajmata Scindia had fought two elections in 1957 and 1962 as Congress candidate before she joined Bhartiya Jana Sangh. The person who perhaps played a decisive role keeping Rajmata in the loop of Jana Sangh or Hindu Right politics was Sambhajirao Angre, who she once credited to have brought down D P Mishra government single handedly to settle her political score with Mr. D P. Mishra.
Given this context, it will be interesting to see how Jyotiraditya Scindia repsonds to BJP brand of Hindutva. So far as the Congress is concerned -- the real challenge before the party is to realize its social base is far greater than the number of seats it has in parliament today. Though, a good part of its social base is scattered. How to build a narrative that could help the party win more parliament seats so that it could reflect its social base is a challenge. Mere anti-Modism has not worked and won’t work in future either. Moreover, who will take lead over this issue is another million-dollar question.
(Dr Shaikh Mujibur Rehman teaches at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi and is the author of a upcoming book, Explaining Muslim Mind. Views are personal)