This reassurance offers the Congress a rare and very large piece of good news. Expanding to include the third regional heavyweight from Madhya Pradesh – former Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh – Kamal Nath emphasized, “The need of the hour is unity. All three of us will have to make sacrifices and work together putting individual interests aside to focus on ensuring a win. All three of us have told Sonia Gandhi that together.”
For the better part of the year, the Gandhis were unable to decide who to make top boss in Madhya Pradesh, where 14 years of uninterrupted BJP rule should allow the Congress a chance to claim anti-incumbency and act on that. If at all peace has been brokered, it is because the Gandhis were saved the nightmare of making a decision.
“Both Scindia and Digvijaya are with me on this. And first we went to see Mrs Gandhi nearly three months ago and said that this is what the three of us want,” Kamal Nath told me, presenting the trio as one big happy family that will work together to combat the BJP.
But the Gandhis now have to choose between him and Jyotiraditya Scindia, who is 46 years old, a close aide of Rahul Gandhi, and seen as one of the younger leaders that the party must promote. For months, they have waffled and there has been talk of Kamal Nath meeting with BJP chief Amit Shah to explore options of working together, should he be overlooked.
Kamal Nath flatly denied this. “They (the BJP) are clearly desperate for it and keeping planting such rumours. I am very happy in the Congress party and I would be the last man to ever leave it. We have to get together and ensure that the BJP is defeated,” he said, stressing “Now the process is underway and we need to focus announce a new chief.”
To placate its Big 3 – Scindia, Digvijaya Singh and Kamal Nath – the Gandhis have made a major organizational change that the trio demanded – the removal of Delhi leader Mohan Prakash as the central party’s liaison with the Madhya Pradesh branch. Rahul Gandhi ensured this was done before he left for the US. Mohan Prakash was viewed as a lackluster organiser by all three factions and has been replaced by Deepak Babaria.
Sources say the announcement of the MPCC (Madhya Pradesh Congress Chief) is likely next month. Kamal Nath, who has represented Chindwara in Madhya Pradesh for 37 consecutive years, says another tough decision is due. “I told Rahul Gandhi that we need to have and announce a Chief Ministerial face against Shivraj (Chouhan).”
This would repeat the formula followed in Punjab where Amarinder Singh was first made the state chief and then prevailed upon Rahul Gandhi to announce him as the presumptive Chief Minister. Increasingly, the Congress believes that it will need to follow this pattern in every election with a firm declaration to voters of who they are being asked to select.
Digvijaya Singh told me that he has no ambition to be MPCC and confirmed Kamal Nath’s claim of their joint meeting with the Gandhis “We need to revive the party in Madhya Pradesh and form the government. I support anything that makes it happen,” he said.
Digvijaya Singh is important because he still has a huge organisational hold on the MPCC and the party cadre after his two terms as Chief Minister.
Sources say that if the Gandhis make their decision on MPCC soon, the party could start early on crafting a campaign. If Scindia is chosen as the Chief Ministerial candidate, the BJP will ensure that its campaign is planned around the “Maharajah versus commoner” riff, but Congress sources say they aren’t worried about that resonating since Scindia is a third-term MP perceived as hard-working and committed. If those are his strengths, Kamal Nath comes with huge experience and formidable funding.
Sources say that three in-house surveys recently conducted by the Congress show huge anti-incumbency against Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan with large frustration over rural distress. Despite the fact that seven people died after the police opened fire on farmers in June, the Congress was unable to turn the tragedy into a sustained campaign against the BJP and its policies.
With its three competing leaders apparently willing to find a way to co-run the campaign, the Congress may be saved the possibility of a huge revolt in yet another state – it’s still recovering from Gujarat and trying to keep its Himachal Pradesh flock together.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.