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India

Congress’ Royal Scions-Patronage Scheme Flounders as Party Loses Relevance

In recent years, many Young Turks of the Congress have moved to greener pastures, realising that the party was no longer a major political force.

Jitin Prasada, RPN Singh, Jyotiraditya Scindia
Jitin Prasada, RPN Singh, Jyotiraditya Scindia are just three of the many former Congress leaders who have joined the BJP. (Photo: India Ahead Network)

AT THE TIME of Independence, more than 500 small and large princely states existed in India. United Provinces of Agra and Outh- re-christened Uttar Pradesh post-Independence- was, however, under the direct administration of Her Majesty’s government. The British, though, depended on small and minor principalities to maintain law and order in the hinterland and for revenue collection.

For having led India’s Independence struggle, Congress was the natural choice to lead the country when the first general elections were held. Over the next two decades, scions of most principalities – both major and minor- gravitated towards the Congress. The grand old party remained anchored to power even as socialists and right wingers left to chart their own course.

Having vanquished her detractors in the party, Indira Gandhi abolished the privy-purse in 1970 to underscore her commitment to Garibi-Hatao. But in the battleground UP, the party remained sheet-anchored to minor principalities and their scions for votes and influence as leaders like Charan Singh left Congress and socialists like Ram Manohar Lohia challenged Congress’ electoral hegemony.

The Raja of Kalakankar in Pratapgarh Dinesh Singh remained a trusted aide of Indira Gandhi. So was Raja of Manda, Vishvanath Pratap Singh. Dhunni Singh, the scion of a principality in Raebareli managed the former PM’s elections. Indira’s son Sanjay Gandhi contested elections from Amethi, so the other Sanjay, the Raja of Amethi Sanjay Singh effortlessly walked into Congress’ inner circles.  

Kunwar Chandra Pratap Narain Singh, of Padrauna estate, a minor principality in Eastern UP which was managed by senthwars, a clan of kurmis in Poorvanchal was in the same league. Singh was a minister in the Indira Gandhi government in 1980.

With the passage of time, the gen next stepped up. CPN Singh’s son RPN Singh became active in Congress circles and won two elections to UP Assembly. He too gravitated towards Congress’ family as Rahul Gandhi took the first ginger step in electoral politics in 2004.

Its team being hand-picked by Rahul, the generation shift in the party was getting reflected in the Youth Congress too. RPN Singh, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasada, son of Jitendra Prasada of Shahajanpur principality in central-UP, Bhanwar Jitendra Singh of Alwar. It’s a long list.

Projected as Congress’ next generation of leadership, most of these leaders were given ministerial assignments in Manmohan Singh government to ramp up their political profiles.

Even estranged scions like Akhilesh Singh, son of Dhunni Singh of Raebareli, seemed reasonably convinced of Congress’ recovery and returned to party fold. So did Sanjay Singh of Amethi after a brief sojourn to the BJP.

The 2014 Lok Sabha polls perhaps came as a rude shock to the Congress leadership as the party registered its worst ever performance in a General Election, failing to win even 10 per cent of the 543 seats. Both Jitin Prasada and RPN Singh lost the elections. In 2019, they were relegated to the third spot.

For a Jitin Prasada or an RPN Singh, their personal influence have seemed woefully inadequate to get them first past the post.

If Congress could lose Amethi, the signs were ominous.

The going since has been tough. Congress’ influence in UP has only been declining. Congress’ depleted strength in the state assemblies has left fewer vacancies in the Rajya Sabha where some of them could have been accommodated.

The party which devised and mastered the art of sustenance through political patronage suddenly had nothing to offer to its leaders inured to power since their baptism in politics.   

With their fiefdoms imperilled, the liege slowly yet steadily gravitated towards new power centres.

Jyotiraditya Scindia toppled the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh and took off with his MLAs. Jitin Prasada got his chance when BJP faced the Brahmin backlash following the Vikas Dubey encounter.

Sanjay Singh is again back in the BJP after having served another term in the Rajya Sabha from Assam on Congress ticket. Akhilesh Singh’s daughter, Aditi Singh, who won the last assembly polls on Congress ticket in 2017 is now a BJP nominee from Raebareli.

Like many of his comrades in the Congress party, the moment of reckoning for RPN Singh came with Swami Prasad Maurya’s defection from BJP to SP. Maurya has represented Padrauna- RPN Singh’s home constituency- in the state assembly for the last 10 years, once each on BSP and BJP ticket.

In the bitter battle for perception in UP polls, BJP had to strike back after a slew of most-backward-castes leaders deserted the party in early January 2022.

Mulayam Singh Yadav’s daughter-in-law Aparna Yadav was the first big catch.

And then RPN Singh followed suit.