Congress Unites Behind Kamal Nath's Leadership in MP
On August 10, in the capital city of Bhopal, Kamal Nath orchestrated a significant gathering at his residence, drawing an extensive queue of Congress workers and visitors from across the state. The objective behind this assembly was to establish a connection with party members and local leaders hailing from various corners of Madhya Pradesh.
These party members and local leaders stood in harmony, unequivocally expressing their unwavering support for Kamal Nath as the potential Chief Minister in the event of Congress regaining power in the state. This endorsement follows the setback that led to the downfall of Nath's government in 2020, triggered by the departure of the long-standing Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Jyoti Kalsangrah, a local Congress worker, observed, "The departure of those who prioritised personal power over the collective interests of the party is indeed a positive development."
Reflecting on events, she added, "In 2018, our party assumed leadership in the state under Kamal Nath's guidance, ending a decade-long absence from power. Unfortunately, internal conflicts played into the hands of the BJP, leading to the destabilisation of our government. However, we stand united once again under the leadership of Kamal Nath as we approach the upcoming elections."
State political analysts believe that this represents the most significant victory the party has seen over the last two decades. At the moment, the Congress stands united as a cohesive whole, especially after another senior party leader, Digvijay Singh, publicly endorsed Kamal Nath as the Chief Minister.
“It's truly remarkable that the Congress in the state has come together like never before. Over the years, divisions have frequently marked the Congress party's landscape, even tracing back to the undivided Madhya Pradesh era. These divisions, often driven by figures such as the Scindias, Arjun Singh, Digvijay Singh, and others, have fueled internal conflicts. However, the solidarity forming around Kamal Nath as the singular candidate for Chief Minister is something we've never seen before,” Shamshur Rahman Alavi, a seasoned journalist and political analyst, said.
The effort to maintain party unity extends not only to senior leadership but also reaches local leaders. Kamal Nath has embarked on an extensive state-wide tour, emphasising areas and regions where the Congress has experienced electoral setbacks in the past three elections.
“Working to resolve conflicts among contentious party members in these constituencies, the former Chief Minister is taking measures to prevent local rivalries from undermining his electoral prospects," Alavi added.
Both the Congress party and Kamal Nath are fully aware of the challenges presented by the increasing prominence of the BJP and its ideology in the state. As a result, their approach revolves around placing a strong emphasis on local issues for the upcoming elections.
However, recent events suggest that this careful strategy might not be completely adequate. These developments also highlight that Kamal Nath is showing a reluctance to take chances and is gradually moving towards a more assertive Hindutva position as the elections draw near.
From August 5 to 7, Kamal Nath organised a three-day 'Hanuman Katha Vachana' event, spotlighting the presence of the contentious religious speaker Dhirendra Shastri, in Chhindwara – a stronghold he's held since 1980. During the second day of the spiritual gathering, as Nath stood by his son Nakul Nath, a Member of Parliament from Chhindwara, Shastri's voice rang out once again with the chant ‘ Jai Hindu Rashtra ki', drawing a fervent response of 'Jai' from the enthusiastic audience.
Kamal Nath engaged with a question about Hindu Rashtra while partaking in the aarti ceremony. He explained his standpoint, saying, "Why limit it to Dhirendra Shastri? Pandit Pradeep Mishra will also be leading a katha vachana in September in Chhindwara.”
Both Shastri and Mishra have consistently underscored the idea of proclaiming India as a Hindu Rashtra during their religious congregations. Their stance has garnered support from prominent BJP figures, including Narottam Mishra, the state's Home Minister.
While Kamal Nath extended invitations to controversial seers like Shastri and Mishra, Digvijaya Singh, a senior Congress leader and former Chief Minister of the state, staunchly opposes Shastri's viewpoints. He had also criticised Mishra for advocating the dismissal of the Constitution and endorsing Prime Minister Narendra Modi during an event.
Singh had commented, "Engaging in political discussions while seated on Ved Peeth goes against the essence of Hinduism."
As per political analysts, this strategic division of roles within the Congress aims to highlight two distinct dimensions of the party's Hindutva approach in Madhya Pradesh. Digvijaya Singh leads a faction that seeks to portray his Hindu identity and gain recognition as a Sanatani within the political realm. However, he distances himself from the more militant aspects of Hindutva.
Conversely, Kamal Nath adopts a path reminiscent of the BJP's Hindutva, actively engaging with figures like Shastri and Mishra. Notably, Kamal Nath even recently stated that if 82 per cent of India's population is Hindu, the country could be considered a Hindu Rashtra.
Validating this phenomenon and offering insights, Girija Singh, a political analyst and commentator based in Madhya Pradesh, observed, “Having a deep understanding of Madhya Pradesh's political landscape, I note distinct dynamics compared to those of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
“Congress leaders appear to be leveraging the Hindutva card based more on assumptions than concrete realities. In my assessment, the state is witnessing anti-incumbency sentiments, making it wiser for Congress to prioritise local and economic concerns rather than over-relying on Hindutva.
“Despite the buzz, I believe that a majority of voters in the state primarily base their assembly election choices on issues beyond Hindutva. Exaggerating its importance might divert attention from critical concerns contributing to anti-incumbency, such as corruption, crime, and poverty."
Recognising the potential interference from a dedicated segment of the bureaucracy, Digvijaya Singh has publicly cautioned against unfairly implicating party members in fabricated cases. Speaking at a meeting in May 2023, he emphasised, "With only a few months remaining until our return to power, we will not demonstrate the same leniency as in the past."
The party is taking a proactive approach by focusing its efforts on addressing the needs of economically disadvantaged sections of society and promising welfare initiatives. Drawing inspiration from a similar strategy observed in Karnataka, the optimistic Congress has already outlined a set of several commitments for the public.
These include measures such as relieving farmers of their loans, reinstating the Old Pension Scheme (OPS), providing a monthly assistance of Rs 1,500 to women through the Nari Samman Yojana (‘women's dignity scheme’), offering LPG cylinders at a cost of Rs 500, and providing free electricity for consumption up to 100 units, with reduced rates for usage up to 200 units.
Concurrently, the Congress is meticulously assembling a comprehensive "chargesheet" spanning 150 pages to highlight instances of misgovernance during the 18-year tenure of the BJP's rule in the state. Simultaneously, the party is refining its electoral manifesto, a document of commitments known as the "Vachan Patra," under the guidance of Paras Saklecha, a member of the manifesto committee.
In a conversation with The Citizen, KK Mishra, the Congress Media Incharge, stressed that the party will remain steadfast in addressing state-specific issues during the elections, eschewing distractions. Mishra accused the BJP of attempting to divert attention from substantial concerns through theatrical tactics.
"While the BJP strives to shift focus and indulge in trivial politics, our dedication lies in addressing significant matters during the impending elections," Mishra said, adding, "Our focal points encompass critical issues such as corruption, unemployment, women's safety, farmer suicides, and maintaining law and order.
“While they endeavour to cloak their own corruption, we are resolute in compiling a document that will expose their mismanagement and corrupt practices."
Recently, Kamal Nath announced a package of substantial offerings for farmers. This includes waiving bills for five horsepower, settling pending electricity bills, forgiving agricultural debts, resolving cases related to protests, and ensuring a continuous 12-hour supply of electricity. These commitments are strategically designed to resonate with the farming community and garner their support.
“As a united team under the guidance of Kamal Nath ji, our commitment is to engage in elections grounded in the local concerns of Madhya Pradesh. While the BJP might persist with divisive strategies centred around polarising issues, like religious differences, the people of the state possess the acumen to discern these tactics. They will not be swayed by such attempts by the BJP government," Mishra said.
The state's Congress party has successfully implemented a centralised leadership framework. This leadership is proactively involved in decision-making, candidate selection, formation of task forces, and distribution of responsibilities.
A representative from the local party unit revealed, "Unlike previous occurrences where Congress candidates autonomously handled their individual constituencies during elections, the party is now holistically supervising all aspects, including financial affairs."
Meanwhile, analysts such as Alvi contend that the BJP maintains an edge over Congress in terms of welfare measures or freebie schemes. This advantage stems from the BJP's proactive launch of fund distribution initiatives like the Ladli Behna Yojna, which resonates more convincingly with voters as opposed to pledges that are planned for post-election implementation.
“Voters typically lean towards deriving advantages from ongoing schemes and anticipate supplementary enhancements to the existing benefits they are enjoying. In this aspect, the BJP holds a favourable position compared to the Congress," Alvi said.