Armed with the latest issue of Businessworld, a couple of smartphones and a two bottles of mineral water, Union Minister of State for Power Jyotiraditya Scindia took off from the Special Armed Force camp in Bhind. Mr. Scindia, also head of the Congress’ M.P. Election Campaign Committee, is on the warpath — hopping from one village meeting to another in an Aerospatiale 365N3 Dauphin 2 chopper.
He took it easy on Tuesday, addressing six meetings across three districts in the Gwalior and Chambal divisions. Sometimes, he addresses up to 12 meetings, which usually have large crowds drawn by his oratory and royal lineage. This is his home turf, yet it is also perhaps the toughest political battleground in M.P. with a constant war of attrition among the Congress, the BJP and the BSP.
Asked what keeps him going, he points to the bottles of water. He adds, “I’ve been campaigning for my father [the late Minister Madhavrao Scindia] since 1984 when he fought [and defeated former P.M.] Atal Bihari Vajpayee. I was 13 then. My father is my idol and some of it [oratory] is because of his blood.”
The Congress organisation and most of the crowd address him by the imperial honorific of “Shrimant” or “Maharaj.”
Asked about this royalist cult around him, he replied, “I don’t believe in the past, though I believe in the morals and value system of India. This is based on truth, selflessness, public service, honesty, being a thoughtful and caring person and a good human being.”
His party chose him to lead the campaign committee, a step short of naming him chief ministerial candidate. In the Madhya Pradesh Congress, known more for its factions than the efficiency of its political machine, Mr. Scindia’s ascension created dissent but also boosted the morale of its young cadre. However, he continues as a Member of Parliament and a Union Minister. “I don’t think the campaign has suffered in any way, neither has my Ministry. Multitasking is something you need to be able to handle... I don’t sleep until my desk is clear,” he said.
Mr. Scindia, however, refused to clarify whether he was in the race for C.M. or not. “It depends on the situation,” he said. “My path is one of service. An M.P., a Minister or a campaign committee chief — these are just paths to that goal.
In his speeches, he dwells upon the allegations of corruption and misgovernance by the BJP government. Mr. Scindia keeps separate A4 sheets on the unique issues of every constituency he visits. In a village he targets the government on flawed implementation of MGNREGA, in urban clusters with a sizeable number of youth he talks of scams and unemployment. In Khadihar, a village in the Dimani constituency, Mr. Scindia campaigned for the Congress’ candidate Ravindra Singh Tomar, a local tough who cut his teeth in the BSP and the BJP before switching to the Congress, shortly before the date of filing nominations. Mr. Scindia and Mr. Tomar both lash out at the BJP.
However, a sample survey of the crowd threw up a unanimous result — that the fight here is between the BSP and the Congress.
One of the amazing unknowns of this campaign is the BSP. In village after village on the highway to Morena, the tea shop gossip is either of a hamlet that has replaced all other flags with blue elephant banners of the BSP or the winnable caste configuration of the party’s local candidate.