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Kamal Nath to lead Congress in Madhya Pradesh. Here's what worked for him

Akash Bisht | Updated on: 26 April 2018, 19:11 IST

Ending long-standing speculation over who would lead the Congress in Madhya Pradesh in the run-up to the 2018 Assembly elections, the party Thursday announced senior leader Kamal Nath as its state unit president. He replaced former Union minister Arun Yadav. The appointment of the nine-time member of Parliament from Chindwara was done with the intent to put an end to factionalism within the state unit, which was considered to be among one of the primary reasons for Congress' disastrous performance in the state.

Congress also carefully made other crucial appointments to ensure different factions were equally represented in the party's state unit. Congress' chief whip in Lok Sabha and Guna MP, Jyotiraditya Scindia, has been made the chairman of the campaign committee.

While many are considering Nath's elevation as a setback for Scindia, political experts believe that being the campaign committee chief gives the Guna MP opportunity to be a constant feature in party's election campaign, which could see him interact with people across the state and build support for himself.

According to experts, Nath's appointment in no way suggests that he could also be the party's chief ministerial candidate. Though he is certainly being considered as the front-runner for the post if the party manages to oust the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Ever since the Congress won the recently held assembly bye-elections in Mungaoli and Kolaras, there was a buzz that Scindia could be handed the reigns of the party. In fact, even Nath backed Scindia's name for the state chief. However, all this while, former chief minister Digvijay Singh was busy with his Narmada parikrama and on his return, sources claimed that he put his weight behind Nath, whom he fondly addresses as “elder brother”.

This many believe made the Congress rethink on Scindia's candidature in order to avoid any more factionalism. Sources claim that on his return, Singh seemed to have made it clear to the central leadership that he was more comfortable with Nath at the helm of affairs instead of Scindia.

Other reasons being attributed to Chhindwara MP making the cut are his deep pockets and organisational skills. Despite being considered an outsider in state politics, Nath's “connections” across the spectrum have made the Congress president rethink on his promise of giving youngsters more opportunities.

“On the other hand, Kamal Nath, unlike his buddy 'Diggy Raja', has rarely been spotted in Bhopal. He is seen as an 'outsider' and his influence is limited to 30-40 seats in the southern belt,” wrote Bhavdeep Kang in Firstpost.

It is for his “delegating and outsourcing” skills that many believe helped him get the job. “Unlike Scindia, who will have to do all the running now, considering he is the campaign chief, Nath is most likely to sit in his office and delegate work. This isn't necessarily bad for Scindia who will get an opportunity to improve his presence and popularity in the state,” said Harish Divekar, a Bhopal-based political analyst.

In fact, sources have informed that Congress President Rahul Gandhi had a meeting with the three leaders – Nath, Singh and Scindia – where they all asked for a change of guard in the state. In fact, one of the senior-most leaders of MP had confided in this reporter that it was crucial for the Congress to declare a name to ensure that the party stands behind him as it looks to end the 15-year-old rule of the Shivraj Singh Chauhan.

“The party workers are in a state of confusion and a decision needs to be taken soon to ensure that we stand behind whoever is chosen by the central leadership. If a decision is not taken soon, we will be in a disadvantageous position,” he had said.

Meanwhile, senior state leader Mahendra Joshi welcomed the decision and said Nath was given the charge because of his seniority. He even welcomed party's decision to appoint Scindia as campaign committee chief and said, “The experience and acceptability of Nath and energy of Scindia will invigorate and unite the party. With these appointments, every aspect has been taken care of and as a result the Congress will emerge as a very strong team which will end BJP's misrule in the state,” he said.

Along with these two appointments, Congress has also announced the names of four working presidents who hail from different regions and caste groups. Bala Bachhan, Ramnivas Rawat, Jitu Patwari and Surender Choudhary have been appointed as new working presidents of the state unit.

Interestingly, the party has accommodated these four on the basis of which camp they belong to. Rawat, from Other Backward Classes, is considered particularly close to Scindia while Patwari, also an OBC, is close to Singh. The other two – Bachhan (Scheduled Tribe) and Choudhary (Scheduled Caste) – are Nath's loyalists.

Experts have pointed how the party has not given any representation to either the Thakurs or the Brahmins in these positions. However, they believe that apart from the big three, these four represent different caste groups and regions which should benefit the party in taking on the BJP.

“In fact, with these appointments, the Congress has created a perfect mix of region and caste which should help it in the run up to the polls. With these changes, Congress has ensured a close contest with the BJP,” said Divekar. He informed that Patwari comes from Malwa region while Chaudhary, Bachhan and Rawat come from Bundelkhand, Nimar and Chambal regions respectively.

According to 2011 census, the state's total population is 7.26 crore, out of which OBC's constitute 51% of the population while SCs constitute 15.51% and STs 21.1%. Overall, 87% people of the state belong to SC, ST and backward classes, which makes these appointments even more crucial.

First published: 26 April 2018, 19:11 IST