Bhopal: Weeks before the 2018 assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh was heard telling a small group of ticket-aspirants that he would abstain from campaigning because the party loses votes due to his speeches.
It was not meant for public consumption but Singh stuck to his self-deprecating comment — caught on camera. The former chief minister hardly campaigned in the assembly elections.
Despite being one of the top state leaders, his relative absence was not felt much because national leaders like Rahul Gandhi addressed many rallies and so did Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia.
Two years on, little has changed for Singh, who in between lost the 2019 general election to Pragya Singh Thakur by a huge margin in Bhopal.
He continues to stay away from the limelight ahead of the bypolls to 28 constituencies in Madhya Pradesh on 3 November.
With Scindia on the other side of the fence, and Rahul Gandhi not likely to campaign, Kamal Nath has become the face of the Congress campaign.
Nath, who became MP Pradesh Congress Committee chief nearly two-and-a-half years ago, had been chief minister for 15 months until March this year, when the defection by Scindia and MLAs loyal to him brought down the Congress government.
Portraying himself as a victim, Nath has been campaigning vigorously. “He has already covered 10 constituencies and will visit the remaining poll-bound constituencies,” a senior leader told ThePrint, adding that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is likely to hold a roadshow.
“Kamal Nathji will have to run the show because there is no likelihood of Rahul Gandhi’s visit.”
The Congress chooses to keep Singh in the background to deny the BJP an opportunity to target him as ‘Mr Bantadhar’, loosely translated as ruiner or destroyer, while recalling his reign as the chief minister from 2003 to 2013.
“It’s not that he is completely out of action but he handles backroom operations and planning,’’ said the Congress leader quoted above. “We don’t want to take any false step and give the BJP a handle to target us.’’
The Congress campaign makes it explicit that there is no challenger to Nath now. “Janata khadi hai saath, laut rahe hai Kamal Nath (With people’s backing, Kamal Nath is returning)” is one tagline of the campaign. Other videos show the former union minister asking “What was my fault?” before listing achievements from the 15-month Congress rule.
While campaigning in Gwalior-Chambal belt, home to 16 out of the 28 poll-bound seats, Nath tells voters that “it’s now my responsibility to develop the region”.
The party does not fail to mention that when Scindia was with the Congress, he called the shots and did not let anyone interfere in the region’s politics and other matters. Moreover, Scindia’s supporters projected him as the CM face in the 2018 assembly elections in the Gwalior-Chambal region.
There are other Congress leaders, including former ministers such as Jeetu Patwari, Govind Singh, Sajjan Singh Verma and Ajay Singh, involved in the campaign but they are much junior to Kamal Nath.
Former BJP Lok Sabha member from Bhopal Alok Sanjar said it was common knowledge that the Congress does not want to risk votes by making Singh campaign. “While the BJP is united in campaign, the Congress, as always, is a divided house,’’ he said of the rival party’s strategy.