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Kamal Nath, Doon alum & Sanjay Gandhi’s friend, faces his biggest test as MP CM

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Kamal Nath, a nine-time Parliamentarian, has spent a considerable amount of time in Delhi and has little pan-state appeal in Madhya Pradesh.

New Delhi: Veteran Congress leader Kamal Nath, 72, credited with beating back the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, appears set to become the 18th chief minister of the state.

When he takes over in Madhya Pradesh, Nath will be the third chief minister in current Indian politics who is an alumnus of the Doon School in Dehradun — the other two being Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and his Odisha counterpart Naveen Patnaik.

Nath’s political career owes a great deal to his schooling days — particularly to a friendship from back then. “Kamal Nath was a close friend of Indira Gandhi’s son Sanjay Gandhi since his school days,” journalist Rasheed Kidwai told ThePrint,

It was Indira who asked Nath, born in Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, to contest elections from Chhindwara district in Madhya Pradesh. Those were heady days for the then political upstart, characterised by the popular slogan: “Indira ke do haath, Sanjay Gandhi aur Kamal Nath.

Rise to prominence

Nath, who graduated in commerce from St. Xavier’s College in Kolkata, joined the Indian Youth Congress in 1968.

His political stature grew when he allegedly helped in overthrowing the Janata Party government by creating differences between Morarji Desai and Charan Singh.

“In order to do so, he established contact with Raj Narain, the person who won a famous electoral malpractice case against Indira Gandhi,” Kidwai said. “Kamal Nath told him that Congress was ready to support a government under Charan Singh.”

On the advice of Raj Narain, Charan Singh formed the government with Congress support in July 1979. The Congress ultimately withdrew support months later, bringing down the Charan Singh government in January 1980.

Since then, Nath’s political rise has been prolific. He has been a parliamentarian nine times since 1980.

Nath has also served in the Union Cabinet on a number of occasions, including as Union Minister of State (Independent charge) for the Environment and Forests (1991-95), Union Minister of State (Independent charge) for Textiles (1995-96), Union Minister for Commerce and Industry (2004-09), Union Minister for Urban Development (2011-12) and Union Minister for Parliamentary Affairs (2012-14).

This, however, will be the first time that he will be serving as a chief minister.

Also read: Shivraj Singh Chouhan to Kamal Nath: Everyone has a son ready in Madhya Pradesh politics

The Congress’ trouble-shooter  

Nath has a reputation of helping the Congress overcome obstacles, particularly in Parliament. In 2008, when the Congress was unable to get the bill on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail passed in the Rajya Sabha, he secured the support of the Bahujan Samaj Party.

In return, he promised BSP supremo Mayawati support in passing the SC/ST job reservation bill in Parliament.

Nath even ensured the victory of Congress candidate Vivek Tankha in 2016 Rajya Sabha elections despite his party falling short of two MLAs. He once again relied on support from Mayawati in getting Tankha elected.

He has also maintained a close relationship with several BJP leaders, including outgoing chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

Up against it in Madhya Pradesh

Analysts say that Nath has no pan-state appeal in Madhya Pradesh as he has spent a considerable amount on nurturing just his constituency of Chhindwara.

“He had helped in setting up several industries at Chhindwara including Raymond’s factory and a spice park,” says senior journalist Chandrakant Naidu said. “But he does not have a ‘connect’ with people throughout the state. Even his colleague Jyotiraditya Scindia would have faced the same problems if he was chosen as the chief minister. Previous CMs such as Shivraj Singh and Digvijay Singh did not face this kind of problem.”

Naidu further said that Nath may view the intricacies of MP’s politics from a Delhi point of view, which could be a hindrance to his tenure at the helm in the state.  “He will be tested at this age of his abilities to control Madhya Pradesh. I will be surprised if he has a very smooth ride,” Naidu said.

Nath is seen as a pragmatic and rational human-being and is not known to socialise much.

Also read: Kamal Nath says Modi’s personality cult won’t cut in Madhya Pradesh

The 1984 taint

In 2016, Nath was accused by the opposition of being involved in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. In his book 1984: The Anti-Sikh Violence and After, journalist Sanjay Suri alleged that Nath led a mob outside the Rakab Ganj Sahib Gurdwara in New Delhi, where two Sikhs were burnt alive.

The controversy forced Nath to resign as the general secretary in-charge of Punjab, which was gearing up for assembly elections, even though Captain Amarinder Singh, his senior from Doon School, had absolved him of involvement in the riots.

“Till 2005 not a single public statement or FIR was made against me and 1st time my name was mentioned in any forum was 21 years after 1984,” India Today quoted Nath as having said after resigning. “I have been hurt by developments of the past few days wherein unnecessary controversy has been created around the 1984 riots in Delhi.”

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