The hint of a feud between Congress veterans Chief Minister Kamal Nath and former chief minister Digvijaya Singh has let loose speculation of an emerging fault line in the faction-ridden party in Madhya Pradesh.
On Saturday, responding to reporters’ queries in Chhindwara on whether Singh would contest the upcoming Lok Sabha election, Nath said that he had requested him to contest from a seat where the Congress had not won in 30-35 years. It may be recalled that after a drubbing in the 2003 Assembly elections at the end of his second term as chief minister, Singh had vowed not to contest elections for the next 10 years. On Monday, he accepted Nath's challenge, but said the seat should be chosen by ‘my leader Rahul Gandhi’.
Nath's challenge is being interpreted in certain sections as his bid to damage the political career of Singh. Since the seats are BJP strongholds, it would be impossible for him to wrest any of them. It would deflate his ambitions within the Congress besides cutting him to size.
However, not many political observers are willing to buy the feud theory. They view the development as some kind of tactical ploy. The association between the two goes back a long way. Nath, a close friend of the Gandhi family, was instrumental in the anointment of Singh as chief minister of Madhya Pradesh in 1993, the beginning of the first of his two consecutive terms at the helm.
Zooming in to 2018, Singh was by Nath's side throughout the time as hectic parleys were on to choose a chief minister for Madhya Pradesh late in 2018 when the Congress returned to power in the state after a 15-year exile post BJP's three consecutive terms.
The political watchers in the state are taking the development with a pinch of salt.
While Nath might have been discomfited by Singh's increasing interference in the day-to-day functioning of his government, it is not too big a provocation to spoil a three-decade-long association. Some observers believe this could be a move to catch the BJP off-guard before the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.
In throwing a challenge to Singh, Nath may be trying to use his best bet to breach three Lok Sabha constituencies in Madhya Pradesh in particular that have been dominated by the BJP for the last three decades, from 1989. While four BJP MPs represented Bhopal during this span, Indore has been dominated by current Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan alone. Vidisha too returned five members to the Lower House including former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, three-term Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and present External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.
Congress party has persistently tried to breach these three fortresses but failed. In the present day Madhya Pradesh politics, Singh’s strong presence across the state, with a huge following, can’t be denied. People see him as the only Congress leader who’s rooted in the state. The other big leaders like Nath, Jyotiraditya Scindia or tribal leader Kantilal Bhuria – all have influence in limited pockets. Nath and Scindia have been perceived as leaders from Delhi.
Undoubtedly as two-term chief minister, Singh has immense influence in Bhopal. The Congress had last won Bhopal and Indore constituencies in 1984 after the assassination of former prime minister Indira Gandhi.
Though he belongs to Raghogarh royal family, which at present is in Rajgarh district, Singh was born in Indore, finished school and mechanical engineering both from Indore’s The Daly College and SGSITS respectively. Besides this, his participation in students’ politics those days, brings him closer to Indore.
According to Pradesh Congress sources, there’s no apparent feud between the two senior leaders.
“There’s neither any feud nor any disagreement between these two senior most Congress leaders of Madhya Pradesh. It’s baseless. Kamal Nathji gave a suggestion regarding Digvijayji’s contesting Lok Sabha election, to which the latter accepted it as a challenge and said he would contest from the seat that his leader Rahul Gandhiji will ask him to do. There is nothing more to it,” Madhya Pradesh Congress spokesperson JP Dhanopia told Firstpost.
The rumour has taken wings because besides the opposition, a section within the Congress has accused Singh of interfering in governance and government’s decision-making. It is well-known that the new chief secretary of the state is close to him.
“Besides the chief secretary, there are many plump posts which have been given to the bureaucrats close to Digvijaya Singh. There are ministers who take instructions from him. Despite not being in the government, he has a strong presence in governance. Even this issue came up in the Assembly,” a source in the state bureaucracy said on condition of anonymity.
“It’s not about the chief minister trying to show Singh his position. It’s a façade, rather a diversion tactic to keep public attention away from this issue of interference in government,” the source said.
Singh, known for his controversial statements like in the Batla House case or calling Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden as ‘Osamaji’ or equating the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to Nazis and Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), often became an embarrassment for the party.
During the Assembly election in Madhya Pradesh at the end of 2018, the Congress leadership ensured that he stayed away from making any controversial remarks in the state. In the past elections, his comments had caused enough damage to the party.
Many in the state are of the opinion that Nath paved the way for the return of Singh in electoral politics. Throwing challenge and acceptance of it by the latter, in a way gives a message to the Congress high command that he’s ready for the fight and a chance should be given to him.
Your guide to the latest election news, analysis, commentary, live updates and schedule for Lok Sabha Elections 2019 on firstpost.com/elections. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates from all 543 constituencies for the upcoming general elections.
Updated Date: Mar 20, 2019 17:50:45 IST