Crisis in Madhya Pradesh Congress: Bid to stay relevant for Rajya Sabha seat behind battle for unit chief's post

In November, Jyotiraditya Scindia lost out the position of Madhya Pradesh chief minister to Congress veteran Kamal Nath.

Debobrat Ghose September 09, 2019 19:53:03 IST
Crisis in Madhya Pradesh Congress: Bid to stay relevant for Rajya Sabha seat behind battle for unit chief's post
  • It all began when Kamal Nath asked Congress leadership to appoint a new state unit chief

  • Rival camps within the state unit have seemingly drawn daggers against Jyotiraditya Scindia's candidature

  • Sources within a section of Pradesh Congress feel the tussle may also be about succession

The plum post of Madhya Pradesh Congress chief is up for grabs and ambitious state leaders are fighting it out. But the bigger fight is for the shot at the Rajya Sabha seat that will open up next year. Marred by infighting and factionalism, the Madhya Pradesh Congress recently hit headlines for all the wrong reasons. Even to the extent that the party leadership sent the issue to a disciplinary committee headed by senior leader AK Antony.

The decision to have an inquiry was taken after Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath met Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi on 7 September. It all began when Nath, who has been holding dual charge in the state — as chief minister and Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) president — asked Congress leadership to appoint a new chief.

Crisis in Madhya Pradesh Congress Bid to stay relevant for Rajya Sabha seat behind battle for unit chiefs post

File image of Jyotiraditya Scindia. Reuters

As the name of Jyotiraditya Scindia, former Lok Sabha member from Guna and senior leader — who lost the 2019 Lok Sabha election — came up, leaders of various power groups attempted to block him and present themselves as suitable candidates. The allegations and counter-allegations levelled by party leaders only highlight the factionalism within the state unit.

While Forest Minister Umang Singhar recently attacked Digvijaya Singh, calling him a ‘blackmailer’ and ‘liquor mafia’, another senior state Congress leader Manak Agarwal accused Singhar of working as a ‘BJP agent’ to malign Digvijaya's image. In between, Scindia, who’s backed by several MLAs, gave the All India Congress Committee an ultimatum.

Why is power so elusive for Scindia, the young leader who seems to have all the credentials to become the PCC chief? In November, Scindia lost out the position of Madhya Pradesh chief minister to Congress veteran Nath.

Then, Scindia lost in the Lok Sabha polls from Guna, a shocking development. And now, rival camps within the state unit have seemingly drawn daggers against his candidature.

According to sources aware of the political developments within the Madhya Pradesh Congress, the infighting and the tussle is more about staying relevant with an eye on the Rajya Sabha seats. Of the three seats that will fall vacant next year, the Congress is eyeing two seats.

At least one seat is confirmed for the Congress from Madhya Pradesh, and it would like to bag another seat, which will undoubtedly witness a strong contest. With any luck, the Congress can bag two seats in the Upper House. The Congress has an edge as it is the ruling party, and has 121 MLAs in the 230-member Assembly. Apart from this, two BJP MLAs quit the saffron party and migrated to Congress in July.

“It’s about political supremacy. PCC chief is a pretext; the tussle is about the Rajya Sabha seats falling vacant next year for which jockeying will begin in January or February,” said political commentator Rashid Kidwai, the author of Sonia, a biography and 24 Akbar Road.

Kidwai added that during Congress rule, Madhya Pradesh has had a strong chief minister and a lightweight party chief. For example, during Digvijaya's tenure, Paras Ram Bhardwaj from Chhattisgarh, Radha Krishna Malviya and Urmila Singh were state party chiefs, he said.

“After all, the chief minister is a shinning star in any state. So, no one would like to have another power centre by having a strong party president. Preference is for a comparatively lightweight leader,” added Kidwai.

Which might be why Scindia has been facing resistance. In such a case, the best bet will be state Home Minister Bala Bachchan, who is a tribal face of the party and has also expressed interest in the coveted post. With his rich experience in state politics, Bachchan is acceptable to both camps.

Sources within a section of Pradesh Congress feel the tussle may also be about succession. “In case there’s a change, who’ll succeed Kamal Nath? That's why Digvijaya, Scindia and others are trying to prove their supremacy in state politics. Things would have been easier for Scindia had Raul Gandhi remained Congress president,” a source said.

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