Kamal Nath, not long ago the great hope for the Congress in Madhya Pradesh, has left the party exactly where it was 15 months ago: battered, confused, faction-ridden, and in the Opposition.
Now that his shift from national politics to state politics has not gone well, what would be his future move? Will he go back to national politics or will he grind it out in the state, plotting his way back? Speculation is rife in the political circles of Madhya Pradesh, within the Congress in the state and at Centre on what role is being cut out for Nath next. This nine-term Lok Sabha MP from Chhindwara constituency in Madhya Pradesh has always been in limelight, whether the Congress party was in power at the Centre or not.
Despite BJP claiming to have the backing of 106 legislators against 92 of Congress, it can’t be said with certainty that everything will now be hunky dory for the BJP in Madhya Pradesh after it forms the government. It also depends whether the BJP succeeds in containing the rebel Congress MLAs who have changed sides.
What next for Nath?
After the collapse of his government, Nath is neither chief minister, nor is he a Member of Parliament. Now he is just another MLA. His tenure as chief minister ended on an unfortunate note, but let's see what options remain:
Strengthen state Congress
First, Nath may be tasked with making the party robust in Madhya Pradesh as he remains at the helm of the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC). Strengthening and consolidating the faction-ridden party in the state, which is in shambles, would be quite a challenge. If he succeeds, he may emerge as a new commanding leader of Congress in Madhya Pradesh, which it is presently lacking.
But Nath has never been a mass leader. Unlike his counterpart and former chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, he has never been an orator. Instead, he has always been considered a well-networked, resourceful leader, close to the Gandhi family, since the days of the former prime minister Indira Gandhi, who considered him her third son. Unlike Chouhan or Maharashtra’s Devendra Fadnavis, who continue to remain deeply involved in state politics, it has never been Nath’s forte.
Now that he has to stay in the state as an MLA, it’s an opportunity for him to course correct and reach out to party workers. “Arrogance, groupism, corruption and refusal to accommodate various factions — all these factors led to downfall of Kamal Nath government,” Abhilash Khandekar, political commentator and author of Shivraj Singh and Rise of Madhya Pradesh, told Firstpost.
“As CM and PCC chief, total power was concentrated in his hands. In the past week, he began making political appointments, which was too little too late. As chief minister, he hardly met his MLAs (barring a few) and party workers. This caused a serious dent both to the government and the organisation.”
Nath may become the Leader of Opposition (LoP) in Madhya Pradesh Assembly, which again provides him an opportunity to be a strong voice for Congress on one hand and on the other take the BJP heaBecome Leader of Oppositiond on, as and when required in the House.
He is known for his brilliant floor management skills and inter-personal relationship cutting across parties, as he is backed by more than four decades of experience as a parliamentarian.
“Nath is not known to sit idly by,” political commentator Rasheed Kidwai told Firstpost. “He has developed a grip over state politics. However, there are parliamentary conventions that a defeated or deposed chief minister isn’t made LoP. If the Congress leadership overrules it – just as the BJP did in the case of BS Yeddyurappa — Nath alone is capable of exploiting any fissures within the BJP.”
“He’s an MLA and as an LoP, he would get a chance to interact and act with BJP leaders during Assembly sessions; whereas PCC chief’s job is a thankless one and more about acting as a coordinator among regional satraps,” Kidwai, the author of Sonia, a Biography and 24 Akbar Road: A Short History of the People Behind the Fall and Rise of the Congress, further explained.
He might even play a pivotal role in turning the tables for the Congress in the state, because, given the situation, Congress will positively look for the right moment to strike back.
If Nath, however, does continue to be active in state politics whether as an LoP or PCC chief, he will have to keep his friend and former chief minister Digvijaya Singh, who has been re-nominated to Rajya Sabha from Madhya Pradesh in check. The 22 rebel Congress MLAs, including six ministers accused Digvijaya of creating fissures in the party, thus leading to the downfall of the Congress government.
However, a Madhya Pradesh-based industrialist, who has known Nath closely for more than three decades, speaking on condition of anonymity, shared a different point of view.
“Nath is a true businessman and he functions in a similar manner in politics as well. Have you ever heard him calling Modi names? He believes in maintaining cordial relations with leaders of every party. So he may not like to see himself in a role, where he would have to face salvos in the Assembly,” the industrialist remarked.
Given his rich all-round experience in national politics, the Congress may want him back in Delhi — Nath’s most comfortable domain —and get involved in the party’s revival moves.
As a strong proponent of economic development, Nath has been a strong voice at the World Economic Forum at Davos in Switzerland; and Congress may not want his international connections to remain confined to state politics. The party may want to put his international diplomacy skill to enhance the party’s global reach.
But, unlike in the past, as he’s no more an MP, he won’t get the opportunity to flex his muscles in Parliament.
Last but not the least – as an MLA from Chhindwara, he may go back to his home turf and focus on its development and mentor his son Nakul, who became a first-time Lok Sabha MP in 2019 after Nath made way for his son to himself get elected as an MLA – a mandatory condition when he got elected as chief minister.
Whatever option Nath goes for, one thing is clear, he is not calling it a day just yet.
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Updated Date: Mar 20, 2020 22:08:34 IST