New Delhi: Congress president Rahul Gandhi has asked veteran leader Kamal Nath, a nine-term MP from Chindwara, to head the party in Madhya Pradesh as chief in what is a major political development for the state.
Authoritative sources confirmed to The Wire that Gandhi asked Kamal Nath on Friday and that a final announcement would be made soon.
Madhya Pradesh goes to the polls later this year.
Gandhi’s decision ends months of suspense as two other top leaders of the Congress – former chief minister Digvijaya Singh and Congress chief whip Jyotiraditya Scindia – had also jockeyed hard for the position.
Bharatiya Janata Party chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan has been in office for nearly 15 years and is facing huge anti incumbency. Sensing the mood on the ground, the Congress, in a bi-polar polity which Madhya Pradesh is, has tried to get its act together after years of factional attrition.
Singh who recently concluded his six-month Narmada yatra which touched all the 230 constituencies of MP and who still has a strong grip on the organisation and Congress cadre in the state had earlier told Gandhi that he wanted Kamal Nath to go as the chief. Singh told me exclusively “that he was not in the race to be CM face as he had no desire to be CM for the third time.”
Scindia, who has been on an extensive campaigning spree in Madhya Pradesh, had publicly lobbied for the job by saying that the Congress should project a chief ministerial face in all the upcoming assembly elections. Earlier Kamal Nath had told this writer that if Gandhi chose Scindia, he would offer him full support and vice versa, signalling that the three main leaders had managed to bury their differences and would work unitedly to ensure that that party won the crucial assembly elections.
Sources say Digvijaya Singh is reconciled to supporting his old friend Kamal Nath but not his bête noire Scindia and Gandhi’s decision to make Kamal Nath the local chief might have its rationale as placating the Singh faction.
Authoritative sources say that Gandhi is still to decide if the Congress will project a CM face in order to ensure that no faction feels let down. Sources say that while making Kamal Nath the chief gives him a huge edge, it still does not mean that he will be the natural CM face. Singh had met Gandhi with Kamal Nath nearly six months ago and asked him to take a decision to ensure that the party could give a strong fight to the BJP.
Gandhi dithered for six months and finally chose his man. Meanwhile Singh after his yatra has reinvented himself and describes himself as a “Sanatani Hindu” who does not need a certificate on his being a Hindu from his political rivals. He told me “I am a changed man, after introspection I have decided to keep myself away from controversy. I will not provide fodder for journalists copy anymore”.
Singh has revived his grassroots connect in Madhya Pradesh and plans another yatra, this time a political one to free the state from the “clutches of the BJP”. After Kamal Nath’s appointment is announced, they will work together jointly on the yatra. Singh is expected to be made the chairman of the campaign committee by Gandhi.
Meanwhile, the BJP’s Chauhan has already started a campaign against Scindia pitting it as “Maharaj versus Shivraj” as Scindia is the erstwhile ruler of Gwalior. Scindia has patched up with Kamal Nath after the latter publicly said that they had set their differences aside and based on Gandhi’s decision support each other as CM face. While both Kamal Nath and Scindia publicly joined in Singh’s yatra and walked with him, Scindia still has a strained relationship with Singh.
However, Gandhi has for now solved the Madhya Pradesh conundrum by taking a decision on the chief. This is similar to Rajasthan where Sachin Pilot is the local chief but Ashok Gehlot who is now a general secretary in the AICC is still in running to be the CM face.