Scindia: Build Leaders at the Grassroots

The Times of India


At a time when Congress has been thrown into confusion with the surprise announcement of Rahul Gandhi’s sabbatical, party chief whip Jyotiraditya Scindia has joined the debate. Speaking to TOI’s Sagarika Ghose two days before Rahul’s decision was made public, Scindia says those who don’t accept Congress is getting its strategy wrong are living in denial.

Zero seats in Delhi, what explains Congress’s sharp decline? Why are you losing one election after another?

Every party goes through crests and troughs. We had 10 years of being in government… Probably the longest stable government this country has had over 3-4 decades. But yes, there’s a change now.

And you feel a sense of hopelessness?

On the contrary, I have a huge sense of hope. Of course, there were clear reasons for the 2014 mandate. There’s a lot of internal work we need to do, soul searching, understanding.

You got the strategy wrong in 2014?

Obviously. Anyone who tells you we didn’t is in denial. We did a lot of good work in UPA 1 which is why we returned in UPA 2. We did good work in UPA 2 as well. Unfortunately the mistakes got highlighted tremendously and our strategy didn’t work vis-a-vis that election. That’s why we have landed up here. But instead of hopelessness or despair, to me it represents huge opportunity. We need to go back to the drawing board, strategize, re-position ourselves in the mindspace of every Indian. There are plans afoot. We’ve been brought in to discuss, strategize, our opinions have been taken. The organization is working on it.

You dominated Delhi for 15 years, now you are down to zero..

It’s shocking. We have taken the debacle very seriously. We were not prepared enough for this election. We did have enough time but were not prepared, the organization was not there. We did not put our best foot forward.

Was Ajay Maken a wrong choice?

You need to build state leaderships over time. Ajay Maken was positioned, but a little too late. Congress still has a lot of goodwill. We have the largest political workforce in the world which needs to be invigorated. There needs to be a concerted effort at fighting every campaign and every election. It can’t be that when bouquets are coming people take credit, when brickbats come, everyone else is to blame.

Is there a crisis of accountability?

We’ve seen accountability. After Delhi, Ajay stepped forward. So did Arvinder Singh. Post the election in MP, I stepped forward. That’s a welcome change in the party. But we need to work harder at the grassroots.

Is AAP a fundamental challenge to you?

Every opponent is a force, you can’t discount any entity. Not just AAP , across the political spectrum, BJP, SP, for any political opponent, we need to go back with a clear laundry list of what our opponents’ failings are and what we would do.AAP is not a significant player but dominant in Delhi and we have to treat it as such, based on that premise. We have five years. We don’t have to see how badly our neighbours are failing but build ourselves.

Is there a clash between the youth brigade and the older generation in Congress?

I wonder when I won’t be in the youth brigade. I’m approaching fifty and still considered young. Young and old is not the right identification, it’s a question of mindset. There are multiple ideas in the party and that’s healthy. Look at it this way: When markets are in a state of irrational exuberance (such as during the dotcom boom) we said things can only get better. Then you had the dotcom bust. When you had the fall of 2008-09, it was felt that things were only going to get worse but you had a 100% return. The rationale of markets is that you invest when down and sell when high. So if BJP and Congress are two companies, you would buy Congress stock and sell BJP stock. There’s a sell rating on BJP and a buy rating on Congress. But when research analysts put a buy rating on an organization, that needs to live up to it as people will believe in you only for a while and you need to show quarterly results. Not immediately but it has to be in the line of sight.

Jairam Ramesh recently said Congress is facing an existential crisis.

This is the best opportunity for Congress to remould itself. What’s our mindset in our country? Congress must change. We have to, because if we don’t then, yes, Jairam Ramesh’s words will stand true. Our window of opportunity is the next 2-3 years. Not more. If you don’t take advantage Jairam’s words will hold true. If we change, the sky is the limit. There was a buy rating on BJP in 1984 when they had two seats. It took them 20 years. Hopefully it won’t take us that long.

There was a rumour that you were thinking of joining BJP?

I don’t want to even answer that question.

Do you agree with Digvijaya Singh’s view that Congress is a socialist, leftist party? You are hardly leftist.

Yes Digvijaya Singh’s views do echo with mine. However, as times change you must present a value proposition people can believe in. We are fundamentally secular, socialist. But today India as a whole has become aspirational. So our ideas have to be aspirational. The BJP view is a centralization of power in a nonsecular and fundamentalist outlook. That’s not our idea of India. We also differ with BJP in our belief in which sections of society need to move the fastest. We are giving rights combined with economic growth. But yes, I believe you can’t sustain economic growth on public spending alone. We must encourage private investment more.

Has Congress become elitist, many of you come from illustrious families, live in big homes?

How does that matter? My father was a 9-10 term MP. How does where you live matter? You have to remain connected. I live in MP. I come here only because I am an MP .But I tour 10-12 days every month in my area. But yes, something has gone wrong. We’ve lost connect, lost the pulse. But we can reconnect and reignite. We have to be immersed in it, at the grassroots level and down the structure. And a lot of Congress men and women think like I do. I get a lot of fulfilment working in my area–the Gwalior Chambal region.

Should people like you do more?

It depends on the responsibility you are given. Sachin Pilot did a commendable job as minister and is a successful PCC president in Rajasthan. The party has given me a lot of opportunity, in the party and as minister. I’m not ambitious for myself but I am ambitious for my region.

Is your top leadership an issue in where Congress finds itself?

There’s no issue with the leadership. Rahul Gandhi has all the capabilities to take the party forward. The next couple of months are important in evolving and executing our strategy. He’s started that and he’d like to do much more. The environment has changed. We, all of us including him, need to be out there much more. Today communication, media, social media are extremely important. He has taken a lot of feedback and is very clear that he intends to do a lot of that.

What’s the way forward?

We have to build state and local leaderships. We must build at the grassroots. And once you empower someone with the state responsibility, the central leadership has to stand behind them and be mentor. We have to ask who is bringing to the party, who is simply in the party and taking away from it. Those who call the shots must be those who can bring to the party. A wicketkeeper can’t be a pace bowler, and a pace bowler can’t be an opening batsman.