Jyotiraditya Scindia with Rahul Gandhi
In his letter of resignation, Jyotiraditya Scindia, wrote, “It is time for me to move on”. It may be, for him. But is it, for us?
True, the Congress has never been more dysfunctional than it is now. True, there is little or no interaction between the leadership and the party. It is also true that the Congress Working Committee is a shadow of the extraordinary forum for democratic debate, discussion, and dissent that it was in the hoary past. True, too, that the party’s general secretaries inspire none of the awe in which they were held in the Congress’s heydays. There is also no denying that the Congress, which used to pride itself on being a mass movement, has virtually lost its rapport with the people at large. And, finally, that the party which, quite correctly, once regarded itself as the “natural party of governance” has little or no prospect of recovering that position.
But, even recognising all this, has “the time come to move on”? No. For two reasons. One, that more than any other party, the Congress is heir to the “Idea of India” that inspired our freedom movement and guided us in building the modern nationhood of India. That “idea” is being challenged now more than ever in the last one hundred years. To move out of the Congress is not only to abandon the ship, but to do so when it is most required for all hands to be on deck. Running away now is on par with the Scindia Maharaja deciding to field forces on behalf of the British against the Rani of Jhansi and Tatya Tope. Gwalior was defended by one brave woman with her son strapped to her back. 1858 redux? “Khoob ladi mardani/ Woh to Jhansi wali rani thi”.
Second, the Congress is at long last rediscovering its voice. Many of its most distinguished intellectuals — even hacks like myself — are exploring in the public space (in view of the lack of adequate opportunity in the party space) ways in which the party may be revived, rejigged, rejuvenated. And as no disciplinary action is being instituted against them, it would appear that their efforts are being regarded as constructive criticism. When just as we begin to see the green shoots of inner-party democracy emerging, should we be running away, defecting, changing sides — or seizing the occasion to make ourselves heard to the party and the people?
Far from being the time to move on, it is, more than ever, the time to ask, “Move on to where?” I could, at a pinch, agree that there is much to suggest that those who are speaking out from within the party might find themselves in the position of the legendary dogs who bark while the caravan moves on. But is this the right time “to move on” to the enemy camp when the imperative is to fight against the grossest violation we have ever witnessed of everything the Congress has held most dear? No, the only reason I can see for the “time” to be ripe “to move on” is that on the day Scindia defected, only 24 hours were left for the filing of nominations to the Rajya Sabha.
Opinion | Coomi Kapoor writes: Jyotiraditya Scindia’s two aunts in the BJP are not thrilled about their nephew joining the party
A hundred years ago, give a year or two, there arose an alternative Idea of India, that postulated a Hindu India (as against the all-inclusive India that the Congress was championing); it was an alternative idea founded on the “othering” of the Muslim minority who, it was said quite bluntly, might live in India but was “wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges... not even citizens’ rights.” (Golwalkar, We or the Nation Defined; Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in Jyotipunj, his collection of bio-sketches, hails Golwalkar as “Pujniya Shri Guruji”, a guru worthy of worship).
Although the BJP has seized power intermittently since the last quarter century, Atal Bihari Vajpayee lulled the nation into believing that the BJP was listening to saner, more secular voices. But over the last six years, those dulcet tones have been increasingly replaced by the drumbeat of the more extremist voices that founded the idea of the Hindu Rashtra, symbolised by the proposal to award the “Bharat Ratna” to V D Savarkar. To begin with, those of us who raised the alarm by several decibels back in 2014 were “shushed” into giving the BJP a democratic chance since they had won the elections fair and square. It was also a time when the same elections had reduced the once Grand Old Party to a ridiculous 44 seats. It seemed to be more the time to set our own house in order than to be carping at the promise of “acche din”.
Then came 2019 and proof that saffron support had risen. Emboldened, the BJP slipped into full saffron gear. In the space of a mere six months, the NRC was completed in Assam, J&K was quite literally cut to size and the Supreme Court handed over the site of the demolition of the Babri Masjid to the tender care of the demolishers. And there was not a whimper from the minority community as a whole. They seemed resigned to their fate, suffering silently, as much in Kashmir as in the rest of the country. With little effective opposition from the Opposition in Parliament or outside, the government moved into the kill, with its “trishul” of CAA, NPR, and NRC.
Opinion | Meghnad Desai writes: Jyotiraditya Scindia’s exit seals Congress’ fate
Suddenly, Shaheen Bagh happened. From the least expected quarters, emerged hijab-covered women keeping 24-hour relay vigils, holding not the Holy Quran in their hands but the holy Tricolour, reading not from the scriptures but from the Preamble to the Constitution, seeking not violence but justice. They have been followed by their menfolk and all around the country, in hundreds of mini Shaheen Baghs, by full-throated supporters from every class and creed. This is unprecedented not only in the history of our country but also in the history of Islam. It was only in December last that Scindia was proclaiming the CAA to be violative of the “Constitution and culture of India”. How can this possibly be the right time “to move on”, not just leaving the Congress but, worse, defecting to the other side?
This article first appeared in the print edition on March 23, 2020 under the title “A time to stay” The writer is a senior Congress leader and former Union minister