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A look at Jyotiraditya Scindia's tenure as Union Minister with the Congress

File Photo of Jyotiraditya Scindia
The entry of former senior Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia into the BJP last week is being seen as a deft political move by the latter and a major embarrassment for the former by experts and commentators alike.

Forty-nine-year-old Scindia is a four-time member of Parliament from Guna Lok Sabha constituency in Madhya Pradesh, a former junior minister for commerce and telecommunication and also a former minister (independent charge) of power in the previous Congress-lead UPA regime from 2009.

Scindia, who had a near two-decade-long political career with the Congress, belonged to a band of politicians who were considered close to former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and were drafted into the previous Manmohan Singh-led UPA government as representatives of the party’s youth brigade.

As speculation runs rife of a possible cabinet berth for Scindia in the current Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre, it is time to look at the royal scion’s performance in the previous UPA regime as minister holding various posts.

Jyotiraditya Scindia was first drafted into the Union Cabinet in 2007 as minister of state for telecommunications and later, after his re-election for the third time from Guna in 2009 along with the UPA government, he was drafted at junior minister for commerce.

In both the stints, officials and old-timers say, Scindia generally worked under the shadow of his senior cabinet ministers as is the norm with most ministers of state.

He regularly replied to Parliament questions related to his ministry and attended key functions in the absence of his senior cabinet colleagues.

Strangely enough, when Scindia was junior telecommunication minister in 2007, his senior in the ministry was first Dayanidhi Maran, followed by A Raja of DMK, who demitted office in November 2011 after the second UPA government came to power.

Though the period was tumultuous for the Indian telecom sector, Scindia’s role in any the controversies during that period hasn't been established publicly.

Then in 2009, after the UPA government came back to power for the second time, Scindia was made the junior minister for commerce.

This was also time when the global financial crisis hit the world economy and India too. The country's exports and imports both shrank, putting the then government into pressure to announce measures to support exporters to revive trade.

Scindia was a votary of continuing with the export sops till the global market scenario improved and spoke at various public forums about the need to hand-hold exporters to tide over the difficult times.

According to publicly available documents, he also spoke about the need to restructure the commodity boards and ensure price of commodities were kept under check.

Interestingly, while he was junior minister for Commerce, Scindia won a hard-fought victory for the post of President in the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association (MPCA)'s first-ever election.

His main rival was senior BJP leader and then Madhya Pradesh Commerce Minister Kailash Vijayvargiya, who is currently National General Secretary of the party Scindia had recently joined. 

Jyotiraditya Scindia’s big administrative break came in 2012, when he was appointed minister of state (independent charge) for power.

The position came in the aftermath of one of the worst electricity shutdowns in India’s history, when in the middle of sweltering July, almost 70 per cent of the country suffered a power blackout on the 30th and 31st, making the two days the darkest for India.

The blackout was a wakeup call for power system operators, regulators and policy makers.

Rail services were the first to be hit with passengers stranded across stations in the northern region. Water supply was next. While it was a welcome break for school students, for commercial centres, businesses and housewives, it was nothing short of mayhem.

Global papers had their front pages painted with the sad state of electricity sector in 'poor, developing' India.

Immediately, thereafter, power minister Sushil Shinde was shuttled to the Home Ministry with Veerappa Moily taking charge on August 1, 2012 as an interim arrangement.

Subsequently, Scindia was handed over the reins of the power minister as an independent charge, which many considered more of an endorsement of his closeness to and trust within the Gandhi family than his administrative acumen.

Journalists who covered the beat then, recall that Scindia though was extremely courteous with his bureaucrats and the media. He had in him a tinge of haughtiness which came from his royal background, but was never impolite to anyone.

They say that Scindia was also lucky to have some top bureaucrats handling the power ministry then, which made his work easy. 

One notable incident several people recall about Scindia’s tenure as power minister was his abrupt cancelling of an event where discoms from Gujarat were ranked as best performers in a nationwide study conducted by the power ministry that Scindia headed.

Gujarat topped the charts for best-performing state discoms in the survey. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was then chief minister of Gujarat.

The power ministry cancelled the event 48 hours ahead of the scheduled event on February 20 without citing any reason.

On the power blackout, the erstwhile Planning Commission of India had tasked Scindia and his team to prepare an action plan to prevent July 2012-like power blackouts in the country.

In May 2013, Scindia claimed that checks and balances had been put in place to prevent any recurrence of grid collapse and that India would have the world's largest integrated grid by January 2014.  The integrated grid plan was finally achieved on December 31, 2013. 

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