Chief Minister Kamal Nath is morphing into CEO of Madhya Pradesh one small step at a time

Bhopal: When septuagenarian Kamal Nath was sworn in as Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh on 17 December last year following the Congress' slender victory in the Assembly polls, many thought, and justifiably, that the state would actually be run by Digvijaya Singh — his long-time colleague and counterpart in the previous Congress regime in the state. The arrangement, it was argued, suited Nath since he had no desire to fritter away his energies in dealing with routine administrative tasks, much less the pulls and pressures of local politics. Freedom from the mundane would help him focus on the real job: Fulfilling key promises like the farm loan waiver, assured in the manifesto, before the Lok Sabha polls.

Those who know Nath agree that sitting in the chief minister's chair was not exactly a dream job for someone with a Davos mindset assiduously cultivated during his tenure as Union Minister for Commerce and Industry (2004 to 2009) and later Urban Development (2011 to 2012) under the UPA rule. Nath, in fact, had once told this writer that big cat ministries like home or external affairs never held his interest. His work at Udyog Bhavan gave him more of a chance to think global and be with the prime minister than any other ministerial assignment.

It was assumed that since Nath had neither the interest nor the experience in running a state, circumstances would necessarily compel him to depend on the political savvy and guile of the Raja of Raghogarh. This was wall the more given the key backroom role played by the ex-chief minister in strategising the party's poll campaign, and no less importantly, in thwarting the ambitions of their common rival, Jyotiraditya Scindia, from widening his influence in the new power setup.

Chief Minister Kamal Nath is morphing into CEO of Madhya Pradesh one small step at a time

File image of Kamal Nath. PTI

Truth be told it was indeed Digvijaya who seemed to be calling the shots in the first few weeks of the new regime. Apart from having his son and nephew inducted into the cabinet with key portfolios, a number of other loyalists of his were also handed berths. More than a third of the elected MLAs owe allegiance to him. The new chief secretary as well as the DGP also happen to be old Digvijaya faithfuls albeit equally at ease with Nath. Exercising administrative clout was never a problem for the raja since most senior IAS and IPS officers had served under him. Which is why even in the high noon of the BJP's 15-year rule, his personal interests never suffered.

Slow but sure changes have nevertheless been afoot amid the continuing fluidity and power churn in the last few weeks. As Nath settles into his new role, the CEO in him has begun to emerge, rendering his grip on the job tighter. With the Lok Sabha polls knocking on the door, he knows some things just have to be done. Delivery on promises has been given top billing, and the directive pushed down the throat of even the most crabby official. Sweeping changes are being effected in the layout and interiors of the chief minister's residence to make his secretariat a round-the-clock operations hub. Also noticeable is the marked improvement in the IQ levels of officials posted in the chief minister's secretariat compared to those hired by the previous dispensation.

Nath is not the sort of politician who believes in constantly being on the move. This is in sharp contrast to his predecessors, whether Shivraj Singh Chouhan or Digvijaya. The regimes of both were long on legwork but short on delivery. Delegating, on the contrary, is Nath's mantra. He circulates only as as much as necessary, and like the quintessential CEO, hands out responsibility coupled with accountability. During a recent visit to Chhindwara, his home borough, he made the collector announce Rs five crore worth of schemes when he could just as well have done it himself and taken credit. On another occasion, he ticked off a party MLA for needlessly dilly-dallying in his secretariat office after his request for something had been sanctioned.

Politically too, Nath has been playing with a straight bat, firmly held. Unlike his predecessors, Digvijaya included, he never targets political opponents or make snide remarks at the Congress' eternal bugbear, the RSS. While the actual loan waiver to the 50 lakh farmer applicants may take a while, the paperwork for fulfilling the burdensome promise made by his party's national president has been completed with alacrity. Again, his promise to build a gaushala in every panchayat, however impracticable, has the BJP running in circles, eroding a pet poll plank of the saffron parivar. Invoking the NSA against three persons accused of cow slaughter has, on the other hand, pleased his constituents.

The longevity and efficacy of Nath will ultimately depend on who rules the country after May 2019. Given the dependence of his minority government on treacherous allies, efforts will probably be made to dislodge the regime in case Narendra Modi returns to power. But should Nath last a full term, Madhya Pradesh may probably end up getting something that has always eluded it: A generous dose of industrial investment. Making it happen will be CEO Kamal Nath.

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Updated Date: Feb 19, 2019 12:42:33 IST

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