Bhopal: Since the evening of Holi and until late Wednesday night, senior Madhya Pradesh Congress leader and former chief minister Digvijaya Singh had been unavailable to meet any visitor at his B-1, Shyamla Hills, residence. He spent all his time with CM Kamal Nath, with both trying to resolve the whirlpool of crises in which the state’s 14-month-old Congress government is increasingly getting sucked into.
Holi was the day Jyotiraditya Scindia announced his resignation from the Congress party, and Wednesday was when he officially joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Along with him, 22 Congress MLAs also quit, thus bringing the already precarious numbers for the Congress further down.
The Nath-Singh duo working in close coordination is a classic example of how political compulsions and a common enemy can bring even rivals together, pushing them into playing for the same team. The political compulsion in this case is the lingering prospect of the Congress government in the state falling, and the common enemy — Jyotiraditya Scindia.
In a desperate bid to save his chair, among Nath’s closest aides and advisers in Madhya Pradesh has been Singh, with the two in constant touch to strategise the way forward.
This ‘team’, in fact, has been at play since the 2018 December assembly elections, with the common aim of sidelining the one person both dislike — Scindia. Well-placed sources in the MP Congress term it as an “alliance of compulsion”, a need-based and pragmatic friendship that both realise is imperative.
The ‘team’ effort
Singh has been cooped up in the CM’s residence ever since the crisis erupted. Both senior leaders, the sources say, are brainstorming and using their respective strengths in the hope of averting any danger.
Congress leaders believe the combination works — with Nath as an efficient manager and Singh as the quintessential, astute politician.
“Kamal Nath is a good manager, and can navigate through tough situations. But he is not really a politician in the true sense. Singh, meanwhile, is a 100 per cent political animal — shrewd, connected and with a good grip over the party organisation. They have had one common aim — to keep Scindia out. And they both know they need each other for that,” said a senior Congress leader, who did not wish to be identified.
“This is a coalition of compulsion. Nath may not be thrilled about Singh or his influence, but he does know he isn’t a mass leader unlike the latter, and does not have the kind of hold over party workers. Nath also knows Scindia has a good mass presence in the state by virtue of his image, lineage and the youth factor,” said another Congress leader on the condition of anonymity.
Both leaders have much at stake in this government — Nath’s long-pending ambition of becoming chief minister was finally fulfilled and for Singh, his son Jaivardhan’s entry into politics was concreted with him being inducted into the cabinet.
At this point, the sources said, both leaders are in constant touch with their loyalist MLAs — Digvijaya Singh’s loyalists outnumber Nath’s. Both are working in such unison that the two cabinet ministers — Sajjan Singh Verma and Govind Singh — deputed to be in touch with all Congress MLAs and especially to reach out to the 19 defectors in Bengaluru have been neatly divided. While Govind Singh is from the Digvijaya camp, Verma is a Nath loyalist.
At a meeting of all MLAs Tuesday evening, and before they were shepherded off to Jaipur Wednesday, both Singh and Nath briefed them and took stock of the situation.
“There are three senior leaders Kamal Nath is relying on at this point — Ahmed Patel in Delhi, D.K. Shivakumar in Karnataka and Digvijaya Singh in the state,” said the first senior Congress leader quoted above.
“With Scindia out and Singh as his party’s Rajya Sabha nominee, a part of the task has been accomplished. But both Nath and Digvijaya are clever enough to know that none of this will matter unless they retain power. And for that, they need each other at this point,” commented a BJP leader in Madhya Pradesh.
In the run-up to the 2018 assembly polls, the Madhya Pradesh unit of the Congress was as brazen about internal fissures as it could be. Both Jyotiraditya Scindia and Kamal Nath wanted to lead the party in the state polls, and the ambitions were made amply clear.
Scindia, however, was not to have his way as then Congress president Rahul Gandhi chose Nath. The big deciding factor — Digvijaya Singh’s dislike for Scindia, which in fact, dates back to the rivalry between the erstwhile royal families of Gwalior and Raghogarh, to which Jyotiraditya and Singh belong to, respectively
The Congress won the state election by a whisker, and despite his push and sulking, Scindia was not picked for the CM post, while Nath made it to the throne, instead.
Kamal Nath knew how big a threat Scindia was, given the latter’s popularity, personality cult as well as the favourable age-factor. Singh was by Nath’s side when frenzied negotiations on the CMship were taking place. Not just that, Scindia wasn’t made president of the party’s state unit either, with Nath holding that post too.
“In the past 14 months, both have worked together to sidetrack Scindia, with Nath strengthening his hold over the administration and bureaucracy and Singh over party affairs,” said a third Congress leader ThePrint spoke to.
The final culmination of this happened in the form of the Rajya Sabha nomination issue, with both Nath and Singh looking to keep Scindia out. In fact, a number of Congress leaders, largely from the Kamal Nath camp, started making a noise about nominating Priyanka Gandhi Vadra from the state to scuttle Scindia’s chances further.
No great affinity towards each other
It isn’t as if Nath and Digvijaya Singh have great love for each other. Both have had their areas of influence in the state, but by virtue of being a two-time CM and a mass leader, Singh’s appeal pans across the state while Nath is restricted to the Mahakoshal region.
The Congress sources, in fact, said Singh has craftily made sure no other leader from his party manages a pan-state presence, thus restricting Nath to his area and doing his best to not let Scindia venture beyond the Gwalior-Chambal belt.
In fact, in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, it was Nath who had insisted Singh choose the “toughest seat” in the state. Digvijaya fought from Bhopal — a BJP stronghold — and predictably lost.
It isn’t as if Singh has been all quiet the past 14 months. He took to Twitter to corner the chief minister over the issue of removing security from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) office.
There have been murmurs of friction between Singh and Nath, especially over the former’s alleged ‘over-interference’ in the government.
“At this point, however, the two veterans seem to have decided that it is in their best interest to flock together. They have reconciled to being two power centres but wanted to do all they could to eliminate the third one — Scindia. What, however, will be interesting to watch now is how these two navigate their as well as their sons’ ambitions in times to come, with the common enemy now out of the picture,” said the third Congress leader quoted above.