After defecting from the Congress to the BJP, Jyotiraditya Scindia might become a Rajya Sabha member and possibly a minister in the Narendra Modi government, but going by the condition of those who left Congress to look for greener pastures in the BJP, many have been cooling their heels with nothing much to show in their kitty.
Reeta Bahuguna Joshi, as state president of Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee (UPCC) was a powerful and popular leader. She had won Assembly elections from Lucknow cantonment in 2012. She also served as Mayor of Allahabad. Daughter of Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna, who served as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Reeta spent 24 years in the Congress but defected to the BJP before 2017 Assembly elections. She managed to win her seat and was subsequently made to contest the Lok Sabha elections in 2019 from Allahabad which too she won. However, the person who as UPCC chief used to distribute tickets for Assembly and Parliament elections, kept begging in vain for a ticket for her son for Assembly byelection of the seat vacated by her. She has been reduced to being just one of the 302 BJP MPs in Lok Sabha.
Similar has been the fate of several other Congress leaders like former UP chief minister Jagdambika Pal, former Union minister Sanjay Singh, former Maharashtra chief Minister Narayan Rane, former Assam state Congress President Bhubneshwar Kalita, former Deputy CM of Jammu and Kashmir Mangat Ram Sharma, former Congress spokesperson Tom Vadakkan, former Speaker of Jharkhand Assembly Pradeep Balmuchu, former Maharashtra ministers Radha Krishna Vikhe Patil, Harshvardhan Patil and Kripa Shankar, former Orissa CM Girdhar Gamang, former Uttarakhand CM Vijay Bahuguna, former Union minister from Orissa Dilip Ray, former Union minister Jayanti Natarajan besides so many others.
They had been shining stars in their respective parties. But they lost their glitter the moment they joined the BJP. Telugu Desam Party founder NT Rama Rao’s daughter Purandeshwari Devi was Union minister in Dr Manmohan Singh’s government. But she became just another politician soon after joining the BJP.
Similarly, Jayanti Natarajan had earned worldwide respect for taking stringent decisions to protect the environment as Minister for Environment and Forests (MoEF) in Dr Manmohan Singh’s government. In fact, she had earned a sobriquet — Green Terrorist — for refusing to allow cutting and felling of forests, impacting several big industrial projects. Once known for her proximity to former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Natarajan moved into political oblivion after joining the BJP.
So, does the BJP have a policy of use and throw? People have been moving out of the Congress — whose fortune they see declining with every passing day — to the BJP whose fortune is on the ascend during past 6 years. But what they are getting in return? Aren’t they losing their own identity and political capital earned through a lifetime of work?
BJP leaders disagree with this premise. Senior leader terms the trend as a quid pro quo. People have been leaving Congress because they feel their future is no more secure there and Sonia Gandhi and Rahul cannot help them to win their own seat. They come to the BJP to earn a berth in Lok Sabha or a state Assembly. BJP also swells numerically but being a cadre-based party cannot shower too many goodies on the defectors lest BJP grassroot workers and leaders get upset.
There, however, are a few exceptions like Chaudhari Birendra Singh and Rao Inderjit Singh in Haryana and Himanta Biswa Sarma in Assam. Virendra Singh was with Congress for 42 yearsh and joined the BJP just before 2014 Parliament elections. Modi on becoming Prime Minister inducted him into his Cabinet and Birender Singh served in various ministries till 2019. He also got his wife Premlata elected as MLA from Haryana’s Uchana constituency and then as minister in Manohar Lal Khattar government. He did not contest the 2019 Parliament elections, not for selfless reasons but to pave the way for his son Brijendra to get elected as Member of Parliament from Hisar. So, if this grandson of Chaudhry Chhotu Ram has moved away from the limelight, he had already wrangled substantial positions for his family members.
Legendary Haryana strongman Rao Tula Ram’s descendant, Rao Inderjit Singh, is another person to have retained his ministerial berth —though only a Minister of State — in Modi’s second term too but his job profile as Minister of State for Program Implementation and Statistics doesn’t give him much power and weight to be thrown around. He has been reduced to just being a decoration piece in the Modi Cabinet.
Assam strongman Himanta Biswa Sarma was a virtual number two in Tarun Gogoi’s cabinet. He held several important ministers like Finance, Public Works, Health etc but left Congress to join the BJP before the last Assam polls, hoping that he would become the Chief Minister in event of a BJP victory. But Amit Shah and Modi preferred former Assam Gana Parishad (AGP) leader Sarbananda Sonowal to become the CM, leaving Himanta with almost same political profile as he had in Tarun Gogoi’s government. BJP on the other hand, benefited immensely, wrangling almost the entire North East from Congress clutches.
People like political scientist Prof Ajit Seth blame mass exodus from the Congress on the declining fortunes of the party not only at the Centre but in the states as well. They jump the ship to ensure a smooth victory. It is like trying to protect their political capital from getting eroded. That’s why few complain.
Yet there are people like Delhi leaders Krishna Tirath, Arvinder Singh Lovely and former Faridabad MP Avtar Singh Bhadana who returned to Congress after serving a brief stint in the BJP. Bhadana was elected to Lok Sabha on Congress ticket thrice while Lovely was a minister in Sheela Dixit government and was seen as her potential successor.
Bhadana who was elected to UP Assembly from Meerapur in Meerut district in BJP ticket in 2017, resigned from all positions last year to contest Lok Sabha polls from Faridabad as Congress candidate.
Chaudhry Birender Singh told a journalist recently that BJP and Congress are as different from each other as chalk and cheese. BJP is a monolith where individuals usually don’t matter. Only cadre is given importance and there is limited liberty to express yourself. There are people from the RSS to not only help you in your political campaigns but also so keep tab on a person’s activities. The Congress, on the other hand, gives lot of leeway to an individual. It helps people grow politically and individually. There is so much more freedom but little political scope.
In this scenario, it remains to be seen how much importance BJP imparts on Jyotiraditya Scindia. Whether he too will be reduced to being a figurehead like Rao Inderjit Singh and Chaudhary Birender Singh or will he be allowed to prosper and grow as a national leader like his grandmother Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia? Influential BJP leaders like Narendra Singh Tomar and Dr Narottam Mishra hail from the same Gwalior region as Jyotiraditya and they have been pitting their candidates in elections against each other. Whose candidate will be fielded in the Assembly election in the next three-and-a-half years will decide Scindia’s actual clout. And that will also depend on his usefulness and relevance to the BJP!