The return of Kamal Nath to state politics who had remained at the Centre was considered to overturn Congress’ prospect in Madhya Pradesh.
“I don’t want you to vote for Congress leader Kamal Nath, I want you to vote my third son Kamal Nath,” said Indira Gandhi in a rally while campaigning in Chhindwara. Nath who traces back his family roots to UP’s Kanpur was contesting for the Lok Sabha seat from MP’s Chhindwara constituency-a constituency dominated by the tribal population. On April 26, Congress President Rahul Gandhi rejigged the Madhya Pradesh unit of the Congress Committee and handed over the reins to Kamal Nath-a 71 years old party MP and Gandhi family loyalist. In a poll-bound Madhya Pradesh where Congress has been out of power for the last 15 years, the task in front of Kamal Nath is to deliver the results when the state unit is infested with factionalism.
Nath’s return to state politics who had for most of his political career remained at the Centre was considered to overturn Congress’ prospect in Madhya Pradesh. He has been a member of parliament for record 9 times from Chhindwara and had also held positions like Union MoS Environment and Forests, Union MoS Textiles and Minister for Commerce and industry. However, it also came as a surprise since Rahul Gandhi as a president was expected to give chance to more young force. For that matter, Jyotiraditya Scindia’s name, the royal scion of Gwalior, was considered a front-runner for the Chief Ministerial candidature. Yet, ‘importing’ Kamal Nath from Centre was a move carefully devised to keep the party flock together in the state. There are various reasons why the Kamal Nath factor was added to the Madhya Pradesh Congress chapter.
Kamal Nath- the Gandhi family loyalist:
Kamal Nath studied from a Doon school in Dehradun. He and Sanjay Gandhi were school buddies. Kamal Nath hailed from an affluent family while Sanjay Gandhi, from a family that wielded the political power in the country. Nath’s batchmate remembers him as an unconventional person who always had Sanjay Gandhi’s back. The stories of the friendship between the two still are among the hot topics discussed in Delhi corridors. Not only did he dream of Maruti car – the affordable car for the Indian middle class along with Sanjay Gandhi but also went to Tihar jail when Gandhi was put behind the bars during Janata Government days. From Dehradun to Delhi, he was a shadow of Gandhi, a part of what was then infamously called “Sanjay Ke Chhokre” (Hoodlums of Sanjay Gandhi). He was so inseparable from Sanjay Gandhi that a campaign slogan was created- “Indira Gandhi ke Do Haath, Sanjay Gandhi aur Kamal Nath.”
Even after the death of Sanjay Gandhi, Nath remained close confidante of the Gandhi family. He was even named in 1984 Anti-Sikh riots. He was also Rajiv’s trusted lieutenant. His acceptability and good relations across parties made him a man Friday of Sonia Gandhi when it came to managing allies and the opposition during the UPA-2 government. Though the talks with BSP’s Mayawati have soured now, it must be recalled how Kamal Nath managed to get her to support the Congress’ Rajya Sabha candidate from MP Vivek Tankha when party fell short of two votes.
The man with a deep pocket:
It is no longer a secret that Congress party is facing the worst fund crunch currently. In the election year, this can put the party on a back seat especially compared to the rival BJP who got richer multi-folds since 2014. Some in the Congress also believe that Kamal Nath got the post because of the financial resources that he has. Kamal Nath owns as many as 23 businesses which are managed by his sons- ranging from the fields of real estate to aviation and from plantations to hospitality.
Kamal Nath serves as president of the board of governors for The Institute of Management Technology (IMT). He is also the Chairman of “Madhya Pradesh Child Development Council” and Patron to the Bharat Yuvak Samaj (Youth Wing of All India Bharat Seva Samaj). As Livemint points out, some companies in which the Nath family has direct stakes include Span Plantations Pvt. Ltd, Alzo Investments Pvt. Ltd, Nakul Securities Pvt. Ltd, Bakul Holdings Pvt. Ltd, EMC Projects Pvt. Ltd and International Management Technologies Pvt. Ltd. Some subsidiaries include Span Air Pvt. Ltd, Centenary Trading Pvt. Ltd and Shaka Properties Pvt. Ltd. However, his business ownership has always been a low-key affair.
The hero of Chhindwara:
In the state, the Congress is banking on Kamal Nath’s Chhindwara model of development. In his constituency, Kamal Nath is worshipped for transforming the face of the town. The tremendous development work done by him in Chhindwara- which even rivals cannot dare doubt, is the main plank of Congress this assembly election. Despite not being the son of the soil, Kamal Nath is so popular that at the peak of Modi wave, he managed to win by a huge margin in 2014. The people from his constituency vouch for the development-broad roads, big industries, IT parks, Tech parks, schools & colleges & big hospitals. He brought industries such as Western Coalfields Limited & Hindustan Unilever in Chhindwara.
He also brought many institutes such as Raymond Cloth making training institute, Ashok Leyland Drivers Training Institute, NIIT knowledge center, Apparel Training & Design Centre & Footwear Design and Development Institute. His image as a one who is above petty politics has earned him respect in opposition camp as well.
The mastermind administrator:
Having been the longest serving member of parliament from his constituency, Nath has earned the reputation of a skilled administrator and an efficient floor manager who knows how to move the cadre and the financial resources. He is also popular as a master strategist who can effectively lead the party in a high decibel election fervor. Not only he has a good reputation among the elites but also has a strong grass root connect- a balance only a few can pull. While many leaders draw clout from the caste they hail from, Kamal Nath has earned his base purely on the basis of his work-which also seems to work in his favor. He is entrusted with bringing the factions together. His strategy to unsettle BJP’s Hindutva pitch as soon as he took over the charge suggests the shrewd political acumen that he employs.
Fear of another faction?
When Kamal Nath was brought in, the state unit was enthusiastic that the party will be able to put a stop on the factionalism. However, as it turned out, the party is fearing another faction supporting Kamal Nath for CM post emerging. Though former CM Digvijay Singh has been backtracked by the party for his loudmouth image, he has returned to the active politics with his ‘Narmada Ekta yatra’ after a 10- years sabbatical. He still has some support base in the party. On the other hand, the supporters of Jyotiraditya Scindia and Kamal Nath are often seen sparring over social media. Even in the recent rally of Rahul Gandhi, posters demanding Scindia to be made CM appeared. Many also believe that Digvijay Singh, Congress’s coordination committee chief – who strongly supported Nath’s appointment, is running the show. This has again led to cracks in state Congress unit when the state is just a month away from polling.
The Kamal Nath factor comes with its own advantages and fallouts. Whether the strategist and pro-development image of Kamal Nath outweigh the factionalism, will be tested in the upcoming days.