NEW DELHI: In an election where the stakes are high because of a strong anti-incumbency factor, the Congress has yet to get its act together. Caught between three overpowering leaders each with his own pocket of influence, Congress President Rahul Gandhi, after a period of uncertainty, has put his weight behind Kamal Nath as the possible chief ministerial candidate if the Congress manages to win the forthcoming assembly elections.

The informal projection of Kamal Nath as the man who will take charge if votes go the Congress way has begun after the old ‘war horse’, close to Sanjay Gandhi at one point, made it clear he would not accept any other Congress leader for the job. Sources said that Rahul Gandhi who was initially inclined towards his personal friend Jyotiraditya Scindia has shifted position following the ultimatum, with Digivijay Singh coming out in strong support of Kamal Nath. Singh who has become a controversial figure in the state has admitted this to reporters, and is not campaigning publicly. However, he is solidly behind Kamal Nath who is popularly referred to as his chhota bhai, or younger brother.

As a local journalist in Bhopal said, “Kamal Nath remains a fighter and knows that this is a crucial last election for him to become chief minister of Madhya Pradesh.” Nath has made it clear that he expects to be CM if the Congress actually manages to wrest the state from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. This, of course, is far from certain and as local leaders have been pointing out, it will depend largely on a united campaign and a good choice of candidates. There are two opinions about the last.

Kamal Nath has influence only in some pockets of Madhya Pradesh, but has the money to counter the BJP. Unlike Scindia who is cautious – of course in Congress local parlance “miserly” – Nath is open handed with his spending and along with Digvijay Singh and the anti incumbency factor is reportedly optimistic about the outcome. He is also a good organisational man.

However, all three Congress leaders are seen as 'Delhi based' and haven't worked at the grassroots level in Madhya Pradesh over the years. A Congress leader in the state confided, “The poor are not with the Congress, we have lost all ground here as we have not been working in the grassroots at all. Unlike the BJP which might be facing anti-incumbency but is in every district and village.”

The BJP is hopeful that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will reverse the trend in favour of the party with his campaign, as he remains popular in the state. Rahul Gandhi carries no appeal in Madhya Pradesh, according to local journalists, “neither negative nor positive.” However, on its plus side the Congress has beefed up its social media presence in the state, and its publicity wing. It is quick to respond, and counter the BJP at every step and after a long while Bhopal seems to be feeling the effect of an active opposition.

The Congress president has left the state to the three regional leaders to manage, with Kamal Nath now increasingly in the lead. Nath has always been a go getter, and while this has bust heads in the Congress party from time to time, he is known to ‘get the task done’. This time he seems to have taken the leader with the same enthusiasm, after a long gap, and now that the signal has turned from orange to green he is fighting for the finish. Whether he will succeed is of course another story, but it will not be for want of trying.