A Congress troika: Bat­tle the party fought within it­self in Mad­hya Pradesh

De­cod­ing the Ka­mal Nath-Digvi­jaya vs Scin­dia equa­tion.

The Sunday Guardian - - Covert -

The Congress has never been short of lead­ers in the state of Mad­hya Pradesh. From the days of D.P. Mishra, Ravi Shankar Shukla and his sons, the Shukla broth­ers, Ar­jun Singh, Moti­lal Vohra, Mad­havrao Scin­dia, to the cur­rent troika of Digvi­jaya Singh, Ka­mal Nath and Jy­oti­ra­ditya Scin­dia, the state has done the Congress proud. In fact, till 2003, no non-Congress gov­ern­ment had com­pleted five years in of­fice. Which is why it’s been a mys­tery as to why the Congress has lan­guished out of power in this state for as many as 15 years.

There are many rea­sons for this, but the one that stands out is that ever since Digvi­jaya Singh lost the 2003 elec­tions and opted out of state pol­i­tics, the Congress has not been able to find a leader to re­place him. One who would be ac­cept­able to not just all the fac­tions but also to Digvi­jaya him­self, for he re­mains an in­flu­en­tial voice in state pol­i­tics. As a Congress party gen­eral sec­re­tary com­mented wryly, “Digvi­jaya may not be pop­u­lar amongst the state, but he is very pop­u­lar amongst Congress work­ers”.

Re­al­is­ing this, Rahul Gandhi pro­moted the one leader whom Digvi­jaya would back—the nine-term MP and for­mer Union Min­is­ter Ka­mal Nath. The Nath-Digvi­jaya equa­tion dates back to Ra­jiv Gandhi’s Congress, if not ear­lier, for it was Indira Gandhi who took Nath to Ch­hind­wara and in­tro­duced him as her “third son”. Digvi­jaya too joined the Congress around the time and was made a min­is­ter in the Ar­jun Singh-led gov­ern­ment in the state from 1980-84. Both Nath and Digvi­jaya were men­tored by the wil­i­est Thakur of them all, the late Ar­jun Singh. How­ever, when Digvi­jaya fell out with Ar­jun Singh in 1995, Nath backed him. (This was when Ar­jun Singh fell out with then Congress pres­i­dent, Narasimha Rao and split the Congress. He wanted Digvi­jaya to join his Congress-T, but Digvi­jaya felt he owed Narasimha Rao, who had ap­pointed him CM over the ri­val claims of Shya­macha­ran Shukla and Moti­lal Vohra.)

In the decade that fol­lowed, Digvi­jaya ruled the state and ce­mented his equa­tion with Nath. He used to tell his col­leagues in a lighter vein, “Of the 45 dis­tricts in the state, I rule over 44 while the 45th is Nath’s”. All the post­ings in Nath’s district were sub­ject to his ap­proval, who was known as the “Bada Bhai” (elder brother) and one whose writ runs in the state.

In­ter­est­ingly, dur­ing the 2008 MP Assem­bly cam­paign, So­nia Gandhi had pro­moted Suresh Pa­chouri as the state PCC chief and the de facto CM face. ( If you re­call af­ter his 2003 de­feat Digvi­jaya had taken a 10-year sab­bat­i­cal from elec­toral pol­i­tics.) An Ar­jun Singh and Ka­mal Nath pro­tégé, Pa­chouri was not in favour with Digvi­jaya Singh. At Nath’s in­sis­tence, Pa­chouri kicked off the 2008 Congress cam­paign from Ch­hind­wara, which is Nath’s bas­tion. Ar­jun Singh cau­tioned him against this, point­ing out that he should in­stead hold a rally in the state’s cap­i­tal, Bhopal. But Pa­chouri heeded Nath’s ad­vice and af­ter his speech, Digvi­jaya took the mi­cro­phone and put for­ward Nath’s name as the CM face. Since this was Nath’s bas­tion, an ea­ger crowd lapped up the sug­ges­tion, leav­ing Pa­chouri red- faced. The in­fight­ing be­tween Digvi­jaya and Ar­jun Singh (via Pa­chouri) dented the Congress cam­paign. This then is also the hold Digvi­jaya has over the state—he may not be able to win it for the Congress but he can en­sure a Congress de­feat. Which is why it is im­per­a­tive for the Congress high com­mand to field a can­di­date of his choice. And Digvi­jaya Singh has made it clear that Nath has his sup­port, for while

What is as in­trigu­ing as Digvi­jaya’s friend­ship with Nath is his dis­trust of Jy­oti­ra­ditya Scin­dia. How­ever, one thing all the Congress lead­ers from MP have in com­mon is their con­ser­va­tive Hin­duism, which works in the Hindi belt.

Singh has opted out of state pol­i­tics, he wants to en­sure that his son Jaivard­han Singh, the sit­ting MLA from Raghog­arh, re­mains rel­e­vant. He knows that Nath will en­sure this. As Rasheed Kid­wai, au­thor of 24 Ak­bar Road points out, “Ka­mal Nath is Digvi­jaya Singh by an­other name.”

What is as in­trigu­ing as Digvi­jaya’s friend­ship with Nath is his dis­trust of Jy­oti­ra­ditya Scin­dia. The Digvi­jaya-Scin­dia equa­tion (or lack of it) is a key turn­ing point in state Congress pol­i­tics. Digvi­jaya’s fa­ther was the erst­while Raja of Raghog­arh, which comes in the Gwalior-Guna belt, of which the Scin­dias were the for­mer Ma­hara­jas. Even to­day there are those who call Digvi­jaya “Raja Sahib” and Jy­oti­ra­ditya Scin­dia “Ma­haraja”. In terms of se­nior­ity, as a for­mer CM, Digvi­jaya trumps Jy­oti­rad- itya in the party hierarchy. In fact, their equa­tion falls in the grey area be­tween demo­cratic and feu­dal In­dia. Those who know Digvi­jaya, claim that he con­sid­ers the Scin­dias as “out­siders”, for they trace their her­itage to the Shin­des from Ma­ha­rash­tra.

In­ter­est­ingly, af­ter Mad­havrao died pre­ma­turely in a plane crash in 2002, his widow took their son to Digvi­jaya and asked him to men­tor him. Jy­oti­ra­ditya used to visit Digvi­jaya at his CM res­i­dence in Bhopal. That ex­per­i­ment, how­ever, clearly was very short-lived as the cur­rent strained re­la­tion­ships show.

Dur­ing a rally in July 2017 at La­har—iron­i­cally pitched as a unity meet with all the lead­ers shar­ing the dais— Digvi­jaya turned to Scin­dia with a smile and said, “go and fight the BJP, not me”. In­ter­est­ingly, Scin­dia’s fa- ther Mad­havrao had or­gan­ised a sim­i­lar unity meet in Dabra in 1993, where he got all the war­ring fac­tions—Moti­lal Vora, Ar­jun Singh, Digvi­jaya and Nath (who were then with Ar­jun Singh)—on the same dais. And the Congress won the state polls later that year.

It is this gap that Rahul Gandhi tried to bridge when he ap­pointed Ka­mal Nath as the PCC chief, for Digvi­jaya had made it clear that if Scin­dia was pro­moted then he would rebel. And nei­ther Nath, nor Scin­dia has the same hold over the party ap­pa­ra­tus as Digvi­jaya has. While Scin­dia’s ap­peal lies in the Guna-Gwalior-Shivpuri belt, Nath is pop­u­lar in the Ma­hakaushal-Ch­hind­wara re­gion. It is Digvi­jaya alone who has a pan state ap­peal. As Rasheed Kid­wai points out, “Mad­hya Pradesh is unique in that it does not have a lin­guis­tic iden­tity as does West Ben­gal or Tamil Nadu. Ev­ery few hun­dred kms the lan­guage changes. It is an ad­min­is­tra­tive state.” This gives rise to re­gional satraps within the state and hence the fac­tion­al­ism is more in­tense here than in other states.

How­ever, one thing all the Congress lead­ers from MP have in com­mon is their con­ser­va­tive Hin­duism, which works in the Hindi belt. Digvi­jaya just com­pleted the 3,300-km long Nar­mada Parikrama. Ka­mal Nath has built a 101 ft tall Hanu­man tem­ple in his con­stituency, while Scin­dia re­cently told the BJP they should learn how to build tem­ples from his fam­ily which has built 60 tem­ples across MP, Ut­tar Pradesh, Ma­ha­rash­tra and Ra­jasthan. Hence, in Mad­hya Pradesh, it was not dif­fi­cult for the Congress to counter the BJP’s Hin­dutva card with some de­gree of con­vic­tion.

Both Nath and Scin­dia kept their in­fight­ing away from pub­lic glare; each fo­cused on their strongholds dur­ing the cam­paign. Digvi­jaya’s face may have been miss­ing from the party posters, but he has been work­ing be­hind the scenes to en­sure a Congress win—for Nath. In fact, Nath claims it was at Singh’s re­quest that his face was kept out of cam­paign posters. Digvi­jaya also got the lion’s share of tick­ets dis­trib­uted, which led to a pub­lic face-off be­tween him and Scin­dia dur­ing an in­ner party meet­ing to fi­nalise seats.

What has also worked is Nath’s grip on gov­er­nance and ad­min­is­tra­tion. Un­der him the Congress launched Project Shakti, a cam­paign to gal­vanise booth- level work­ers iden­ti­fy­ing 43 key con­stituen­cies where the BJP was weak­est. Mad­hya Pradesh has 230 Assem­bly con­stituen­cies, with 65,341 booths and each booth was given 25-30 work­ers. The at­ten­tion to de­tail was not un­like that fol­lowed by BJP chief Amit Shah, though Nath had only seven months since he took over as Pradesh Congress Com­mit­tee (PCC) chief till the state elec­tions to de­liver. He also fo­cused on the sama­jik san­gath­ans (caste based groups) and wooed each sep­a­rately, con­cen­trat­ing on the OBC san­gath­ans. Party work­ers were given spe­cific tasks to al­lay all their con­cerns. Nath’s out­reach also in­cluded An­gan­wadi work­ers and Asha karyakar­tas (so­cial health ac­tivists) for he re­alised the in­flu­ence they had over their ar­eas of work. It was a well crafted cam­paign, for Nath’s strong point is putting sys­tems in place.

More­over, he was the one leader who could unite all fac­tions. Re­al­is­ing this, as early as 2017, Nath reached out to Scin­dia, and the duo told Rahul Gandhi that they were okay with whom­so­ever Rahul chose to pro­mote as party chief, but the Congress needed a face to counter the pop­u­lar Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Other state lead­ers like Kan­ti­lal Bhuria and Rahul Singh backed Digvi­jaya-Nath over Scin­dia. But at the end of the day, the Congress has fought a two-lay­ered bat­tle in Mad­hya Pradesh—one against the BJP, and the other equally in­tense one, within it­self.

IANS

Congress lead­ers Jy­oti­ra­ditya Scin­dia, Ka­mal Nath and Digvi­jaya Singh re­lease the party’s man­i­festo for the Mad­hya Pradesh Assem­bly elec­tions, in Bhopal, on 10 Novem­ber.

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