New Delhi: “Agar voh itne bade leader hote toh apna chunaav nahin harte (if Scindia was such a big leader then he wouldn’t have lost his own election),” said Kamal Nath when asked whether it was his former colleague’s rebellion that lost him his chair. Nath did have a point. At best Scindia had control over a handful of Congress MLAs—sources put this figure at seven-eight at most. But the BJP, quick to play on the Congress faultiness, worked on the rest and managed to whisk away as many as 22 MLAs from the Congress.
Madhya Pradesh is one of the few states where the Congress has always boasted of a strong leadership. In an ironic turn of events, the party’s biggest strength turned to be its biggest weakness as it faced a problem of plenty. And in the end, quoting Leo Tolstoy (Rahul Gandhi’s famous tweet on Time & Patience with Scindia and Nath by his side) didn’t quite make it to the leadership manual when it came to balancing rival ambitions.
It’s interesting to recall that, in the past, the state of Madhya Pradesh had been as much a grooming ground for Congress leaders as had Uttar Pradesh. From the days of D.P. Mishra, Ravi Shankar Shukla and his sons—the Shukla brothers, Arjun Singh, Motilal Vohra, Madhavrao
Scindia to the recent troika of Digvijaya Singh, Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia, the state has done the Congress proud. In fact, till 2003, no non Congress government had completed five years in office. And today, the Congress could barely match 15 months in office as compared to the BJP’s recent track record of 15 years.
There is a view that the Scindia vs Nath feud was not so much Scindia vs Nath as it was Scindia vs Digvijaya. Interestingly, Digvijaya’s father was the erstwhile Raja of Raghogarh, which falls under the Gwalior-Guna belt, of which the Scindias were the former Maharajas. Even today there are those who call Digvijaya, “Raja Sahib”, and Jyotiraditya Scindia, “Maharaja”. However when it came to party hierarchy, Digvijaya trumped Jyotiraditya within the Congress. Yet, according to party sources, Scindia retained his Maharaja airs when dealing with Digvijaya and this irked the three-time former CM no end. Those who know Digvijaya claim that he always considered the Scindias as “outsiders”, for they trace their heritage to the Shindes from Maharashtra.
Interestingly, after Madhavrao died prematurely in a plane crash in 2002, his widow took their son to Digvijaya and asked him to mentor him. Initially, Jyotiraditya used to visit Digvijaya at his CM residence in Bhopal. That experiment, however, clearly was very short-lived as the current strained relationships show. Digvijaya even went to the extent of propping up Scindia’s rival Sachin Pilot within the party to balance the young Maharaja. For instance, as CM, he once invited Pilot to tour the Gwalior belt, knowing that this won’t go down well with Jyotiraditya.
“Scindia is a known and popular face, but he is not familiar with the people or Congress workers, while Digvijaya may not be a popular face amongst the people of the state, but he is well-liked by Congress workers,” commented Nirmal Pathak, Editor, PTI-Bhasha. While the Scindias (both Jyotiraditya and his father) have always been more Delhi based leaders than state ones, Digvijaya Singh had cut his teeth in Madhya Pradesh politics. During his initial years, he was a minister in the Arjun Singh-led government in the state from 1980 to 1984.
Later, when the state Congress was split between the Shyamacharan Shukla-Motilal Vohra factions vs Arjun Singh, both Digvijaya and Nath supported Arjun Singh. At the time too, the Nath and Digvijaya duo successfully ganged up against Madhavrao, who stayed out of state politics and built a niche for himself at the Centre.
In fact, both Nath and Digvijaya were mentored by the wiliest Thakur of them all, the late Arjun Singh. However, when Arjun Singh fell out with Narasimha Rao in 1995 and split the Congress, he expected Digvijaya to follow him. But Digvijaya threw in his lot with Rao, for he felt he owed Rao for appointing him CM over the rival claims of Shyamacharan Shukla and Motilal Vohra.
In the decade that followed, Digvijaya cemented his equation with Nath. He used to tell his colleagues in a lighter vein, “Of the 45 districts in the state, I rule over 44 while the 45th is Nath’s”. All the postings in Nath’s district Chhindwara, were subject to his approval and he was known as the “Bada Bhai” (elder brother) and one whose writ ran large in the state.
And so when it came to choosing between the rival claims of Scindia versus Nath for the CM’s post in December 2018, Rahul Gandhi knew that he had to also factor in the third player in the Madhya Pradesh saga—Digvijaya Singh. That is what swung the CM’s chair for Nath, for Digvijaya made it clear he had neither the time nor the patience for the Maharaja’s tantrums. Like Scindia, Nath too was essentially a Delhi based politician. It was Digvijaya who was familiar with all the intricacies of the state bureaucracy and he virtually ran the state for the last 15 months.
There was some turf war between Nath and Digvijaya and the former had begun to resent the latter’s hold over his bureaucracy. Occasionally, Digvijaya also took a dig at Nath on social media such as when he tweeted a picture of cows wandering all over the Bhopal Indore highway and asked “where is the Gau Mata Premi Gau Rakshak (protector of cows)”. Nath immediately responded with a good natured, “Digvijayaji I have immediately asked officials to make a plan about security of cows on main roads.” As Rasheed Kidwai, author of 24 Akbar Road once pointed out, “Kamal Nath is Digvijaya Singh by another name”.
However, when Scindia chose to criticise the Nath government for not delivering on its promise to farmers and threatened to take to the streets, he was rudely told, go ahead. Clearly, both Nath and Digvijaya treated these outbursts from their younger—and junior colleague—as temper tantrums of the entitled. “Scindia is his father’s son but he cannot expect to take off from the same point his father left. He has to work his way up,” reasoned a Madhya Pradesh Congress MLA.
Rahul Gandhi did offer Scindia the post of Deputy CM (similar to the offer made to Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan). But Scindia turned it down and instead suggested that the post should go to a nominee appointed by him, along with the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) post. This was not acceptable to Nath, who continued to be both PCC chief and CM. The turf war continued, for there was no Congress government at the Centre to divert young Scindia. And eventually, it all came apart with a crisis that was well and truly “Made in Scindia”.