Child’s play politics in Congress
Two decades later, his only son is seeking the support of the Gandhis to claim his legitimate right.
The legacy of the father, more often than not, is a boon for the son. Sometimes, it is a burden. Going by the rebellious behaviour of Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Jitin Prasada, DNA is dictating direction. Their fathers, Rajesh Pilot, Madhavrao Scindia and Jitendra Prasada were credible Congress leaders and Gandhi loyalists. Scindia and Prasada had royal trappings. And the middle-class Pilot became a national neta. Though their party had generously rewarded them, they challenged the Gandhis. Now their parceners have followed paters’ footsteps. The first two left the Congress to join BJP. Pilot is hanging on for the time being.
Sachin Pilot: Hair-raising Heir. Last week, the Rajasthan scion went on a hunger strike against Ashok Gehlot’s reluctance to investigate Vasundhara Raje. The Gandhi in the stage backdrop wasn’t Rahul or Sonia, but the Mahatma himself: the symbolic sage of every Congressman who parades his conscience. The Family had made him the country’s youngest MP, minister, youngest state president and youngest Deputy CM of Rajasthan. Though he was projected as the natural CM, Gehlot upstaged him. As state president, Sachin played a big part in its victory in 2018. He was the Gandhis’ personal choice to lead the Congress and perhaps their first choice as CM. But the old fox Gehlot, an experienced master of statecraft, outmanoeuvred Sachin. Since then, they have been at war. Sachin claims the Gandhis and party boss Mallikarjun Kharge have betrayed him. In July 2020, with support from 30 MLAs, he almost pulled down Gehlot’s government. Intermediaries from Delhi persuaded him to stay on and wait for his turn since age was on his side. The High Command kept him hanging until the organisational elections got over. When the September 2022 elections were announced, Gehlot refused to leave the CM’s chair for Congress presidency but would pave the way for Pilot later. Party rules mandate that the same person cannot be both president and chief minister. Pilot’s hopes to lead the 2023 state elections went kaput. The party is trying to convince him to hang on until the polls are over. But once bitten twice shy, the rebel dynasty is truculent. Will he ditch the Gandhis? He has definitely acquired the combative skills of his IAF fighter pilot father Rajeshwar Prasad Bidhuri aka Rajesh Pilot. Rajesh left the cockpit for politics to become a Congress Lok Sabha MP when he was just 35 years old. He evolved as a Gujjar helmsman and a national figure after winning six Lok Sabha elections. He was a prominent frontline Congress satrap and CWC member. As Minister of State for Internal Security in P V Narasimha Rao’s government, he even jailed notorious godman Chandraswamy, who was close to Rao. When Rao faced corruption charges and a proxy rebellion by Sonia, Rajesh was part of the group searching for an alternative. He hoped he would be chosen. Rao survived but lost the subsequent general election badly. Once he was forced out of the Congress presidency, Rajesh threw his hat in the ring. Rajesh revolted against Sitaram Kesri. He was shocked when Sonia chose Kesri. Unfortunately, Rajesh died in a car crash on June 11, 2000. Two decades later, his only son is seeking the support of the Gandhis to claim his legitimate right.
Jyotiraditya Scindia: Royal Rebel: Like Rajesh was a national leader with PM potential, so was Madhavrao Scindia, ex-Maharaja of Gwalior and current Aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia’s father. Over two decades after he died in an air crash, Jyotiraditya revolted against the Gandhis and joined the BJP. Madhavrao was a nine-time Lok Sabha member who began his political career at 26 as a Jan Sangh MP in 1971. He left India during the Emergency and returned to win as an independent candidate in 1977 during the Janata wave. He joined the Congress in 1980 and trounced Atal Behari Vajpayee in 1984. Later the royal resented Narasimha Rao for forcing his resignation from the Cabinet after his name surfaced in the Jain Hawala scandal. Subsequently, he was back in the Cabinet because Rao wanted to eject his tormentor Arjun Singh. Madhavrao was considered close to Sonia; Rao had met her a day before sacking Singh to inform her that he was elevating Madhavrao. Though the ex-royal emerged as the secular face of the Congress and a PM alternative, he was denied a meaningful national role. He floated his party and contested against the Congress candidate in 1996. Once Rao was removed from the AICC presidency, Madhavrao did ghar wapsi. When Sonia became party president in 1998, she appointed him the Congress deputy leader in the Lok Sabha. Madhavrao was the most trusted political point-man of the Gandhis until his tragic death, although he began his career in the saffron realm. Then Jyotiraditya won the Guna Lok Sabha seat in 2002 with a whopping margin of over 4,50,000 votes—a feat he repeated in 2004 and 2009. Like his father, he was a prominent member of the Gandhi inner circle; close to Rahul and Priyanka. He was a minister in Manmohan Singh’s Cabinet and, even after losing the election, was made a Congress general secretary and put in charge of Uttar Pradesh under Priyanka Gandhi. But he didn’t vibe well with senior Congress leaders. Then he was denied a Rajya Sabha ticket because Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh convinced the Gandhis that he wasn’t a vote catcher. Like Madhavrao, Jyotiraditya rebelliously and revengefully toppled Kamal Nath’s government and inherited the same Ministry of Civil Aviation which daddy ran during the early 1990s. If the father leaving the Jan Sangh was the Congress’s gain, the son’s defection to the saffron phalanx has made the wheel come full circle.
Jitin Prasada: Papa’s Boy: Currently a cabinet minister in the Yogi Adityanath sarkar, Jitin began his career in the Youth Congress after his father’s death. Jitendra Prasada was a prominent Brahmin leader and a political advisor to Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao, Sitaram Kesri and Sonia Gandhi. Yet he challenged Sonia for the post of the AIIC President in 2000 since he believed in internal democracy and felt that the Gandhis could not hold the monopoly for Congress captainship. But he never left his party, which was then almost sinking. Although his well-spoken and well-educated son was a minister in Manmohan Singh’s government and party in charge of West Bengal elections, Jitin didn’t trust his father’s outfit to further his political growth. His maternal royal genes put him at odds with the Congress Old Guard, who controlled the grassroots. As long as Rahul was taking the call, Jitin stayed on, hoping for a major role in the party. The disappointed dynast was one of the 23 signatories to the letter written to Sonia demanding the democratisation of party forums. Eventually, he switched sides for greener (read saffron) pastures in his home state.
The Nehru-Gandhis set the template for succession in the Congress. Ironically, they don’t grant other descendants of Congress heavyweights the same right of succession. In outlier cases, politics is child’s play. Then nothing succeeds like succession.
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