Tough road ahead for Kamal Nath after assembly bypoll win

Updated: May 24, 2019, 22:19 IST | PTI |

Nath defeated Vivek Sahu of the BJP by a margin of 25,837 votes. Kamal Nath's son Nakul Nath, who fought his maiden parliamentary poll, won the Chhindwara Lok Sabha seat for the Congress

Kamal Nath
Kamal Nath

Bhopal: From a nine-time Member of Parliament from Chhindwara to Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, seasoned politician Kamal Nath has traversed a long way in both national and state politics since 1980. The 72-year-old Congress veteran Thursday won the bypoll from the Chhindwara assembly segment, allowing him to continue as the Chief Minister. Nath defeated Vivek Sahu of the BJP by a margin of 25,837 votes. Kamal Nath's son Nakul Nath, who fought his maiden parliamentary poll, won the Chhindwara Lok Sabha seat for the Congress.

The victory of the Naths has come as a silver lining to the otherwise gloomy condition of the Congress in Madhya Pradesh, where it assumed power just six months ago, but is headed for a poor showing in the Lok Sabha polls. After contesting Lok Sabha polls successfully nine times, Nath fought his maiden assembly election (a bypoll) from his home turf Chhindwara after becoming Chief Minister in December 2018. As his government enjoys a wafer thin majority in the 230-member assembly, it will be a challenge for the seasoned politician to keep his flock of MLAs together. The BJP, upbeat by its showing in the Lok Sabha polls, is likely to make Nath's life difficult in the coming days. Madhya Pradesh BJP president Rakesh Singh has already demanded Nath's resignation.

The Nath government is being supported by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP), which have two and one MLA, respectively. Four Independent MLAs are also backing the Congress-led government. Nath's political acumen and relations with leaders from other parties will be tested in the coming days. In his over three-and-a-half decade long electoral career, Nath has lost elections only once. He was defeated by BJP stalwart and former Chief Minister, the late Sunderlal Patwa, in a by-poll from the Chhindwara Lok Sabha seat in 1997. The bypoll was necessitated after Naths wife, Alka Nath, who won from Chhindwara in the 1996 Lok Sabha polls, resigned from the seat. Soon after he became Chief Minister, the BJPraked up the issue of his alleged involvement in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. However, the former Union minister was quick to clarify that he was absolved by the Nanavati Commission, which probed the riots. Nath is considered close to the Nehru-Gandhi family so much so that former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi described him as her 'third son' for helping her take on the post-Emergency Morarji Desai-led regime.

Her grandson, Congress president Rahul Gandhi, sent Nath to Bhopal to head the first Congress government in 15 years in Madhya Pradesh. But Nath's claim for the top job did not go unchallenged as much younger Jyotiraditya Scindia, 47, too had his eyes on the post. Gandhi had to finally take the tough call between what he himself described using a quote of Leo Tolstoy that "the two most powerful warriors are patience and time". Eventually, it was experience that trumped the generation next represented by Scindia and Nath was given the baton, going by his long innings in the hurly-burly world of party politics. The people in Chhindwara refer to the district as an 'oasis' (of development) in the dirt and then there are references like 'keechad mein Kamal' -- punning on the BJP's party symbol 'lotus (kamal)'.

It was at a Chhindwara rally that Indira Gandhi had introduced Nath, saying, "This is my third son. Please vote for him," recalled senior journalist Mahesh Chandak, who covered that election meeting. Nath also played a major role the before 2018 assembly elections to bring together senior party leaders like Digvijay Singh, Scindia and Suresh Pachouri on one platform and put up a united front to take on the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress is known to have several factions. The veteran politician has a wealth of experience in central politics, where he has handled key portfolios when the Congress was in power - in 1991-1996 and 2004-2014. Born in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, to businessman father Mahendra Nath and mother Leela, Nath is an alumnus of the prestigious Doon School (at Dehradun in Uttarakhand). He did his graduation from St. Xavier's College, Kolkata, before taking plunge into politics.

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