Kamal Nath, the wily old fox from Chhindwara, is the man who will be at the helm of affairs after the Congress emerged victorious in a thriller of a result in Madhya Pradesh.
Nath was chosen as the Chief Minister after hectic parleys and the Congress Legislature Party meeting on Thursday. The veteran leader managed an upper hand over Jyotiraditya Scindia in Congress’ inter-generational tug-of-war for the top post.
In the run-up to the Assembly polls, veteran Congressmen have shown a decided preference for state assignments. Realising that there is no place for them in Team Rahul, the septuagenarian leaders are vying with young-ish party colleagues for pole position in their respective states.
Congress boss Rahul Gandhi, caught between the rival claims of the youthful ‘maharaj’ of Gwalior and his feisty 71-year-old ‘vassal’ Digvijaya Singh, needed to find a compromise nominee. Even if that meant going with a Punjabi baniya in an OBC-dominated state.
Nath’s lack of caste credentials is a political shortcoming. He should have been the first choice of the parliamentary party but the Congress instead went for its Dalit face Mallikarjun Kharge.
Nath has a vice-like grip over Chhindwara. He has managed to reign supreme in the seat since 1980 in the grip of formidable challenges. Even the young firebrand, Prahlad Patel, failed to dislodge him in the 2004 BJP wave.
Denied a Congress ticket in 1996 because of the Jain Hawala case, he induced the party to nominate his wife Alka by threatening to stand as an Independent. She won, but the very next year, he suffered his first and only electoral loss against BJP stalwart and former chief minister Sunderlal Patwa. The nine-term MP owes his success to a superbly efficient constituency-level electoral machinery, which works throughout the five-year election cycle.
Kamal Nath, unlike his close friend Divijaya Singh, has rarely been spotted in Bhopal. He is seen as an ‘outsider’ and in a state where analog face-time, hob-nobbing and pressing the flesh are de rigueur for politicians, he prefers delegating and outsourcing.
Nath is seen as a family loyalist ever since he was inducted by Sanjay Gandhi in the 1970s. His role in the Emergency led to the slogan “Indira ke do haath, Sanjay Gandhi aur Kamal Nath”. He was one of the Congress leaders who strongly urged Rahul to take over as Congress president.
Nath’s wealth of experience, banked wisdom and goodwill helped the Congress trump a seasoned campaigner like ‘Mama’ Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Young guns are preferred in almost all spheres now but in politics, the old warhorses still win you races.