From being appointed as Madhya Pradesh party chief just seven months before elections to steering the party to victory after an electoral drought of 15 years in the state, Kamal Nath has kept his track record intact by being the Grand Old Party’s go-to man for managing party cadres and allies.
An astute politician who has worked with the three generations of Gandhis — Indira, Rajiv, Sonia and Rahul — Nath, who was born in Kanpur to an established business family, is at the other end of the spectrum from former chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, whose roots are in an OBC agrarian family from Vidisha.
Ever since he has been appointed as the state Congress chief, Nath has had to deal with the tag of being an outsider to the politics of Madhya Pradesh. Brought up in Kolkata, Nath has never dabbled in state politics.
Born to a Brahmin family, he neither has the backing of any caste even though he has represented the tribal-dominated Chhindwara constituency for 37 years. Contrary to Chouhan’s commoner and simple image, Nath is seen as a money-bag politician, who has a close association with several big industrial houses (his declared worth in Lok Sabha affidavit is Rs 187 crore).
However, in a state that is facing agrarian distress and anger of farmers were the talking points during the election campaign, Nath has solid credentials to champion the community’s causes. It must be remembered that as environment minister in the PV Narasimha Rao government, he had earned accolades during the Earth Summit in 1992 at Rio de Janeiro for safeguarding the rights of farmers.
In fact, Nath’s relation with Madhya Pradesh can be traced back to 1979, when former prime minister Indira Gandhi had described him as her “third son” who helped her take on the Morarji Desai-led regime in 1979.
While introducing him to the people of Chhindwara, Gandhi had said: “This is my third son. Please vote for him.” That eventually led to the slogan “Indira ke do haath, Sanjay Gandhi aur Kamal Nath“.
Besides being among Sanjay Gandhi’s closest friends, Nath was also Rajiv Gandhi’s trusted lieutenant, tasked with managing allies and the opposition as he had wide acceptability. He served in various ministries in the Union government under prime ministers PV Narsimha Rao and Manmohan Singh.
After stepping down as Congress’ Punjab in-charge in 2016 over 1984 anti-Sikh riots charges, Nath found favour as the Madhya Pradesh elections approached. The infighting in the Congress in Madhya Pradesh was a major challenge to the party high command, and Nath made efforts to bring together senior party leaders – former MP chief minister Digvijay Singh, Scindia, and Suresh Pachouri – to turn the Congress into a well-oiled machine ahead of the elections.
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