Kamal Nath, who the Congress has appointed as the new Madhya Pradesh unit chief in a bid to break BJP’s hold in the state, is seen as a go-getter, a quick decision-maker and a smart tactician, who has won nine Lok Sabha elections.
He faces an onerous task in his new role to lead the party’s effort to unseat the well-entrenched BJP in Madhya Pradesh, where Congress has been out of power for the last 15 years.
With about seven months left for the assembly elections, Kamal Nath, 71, will need to take quick steps to galvanise the party unit and forge appropriate social and caste matrix for party’s success.
While his seniority and acceptability across different factions of the state unit is seen as an advantage, Kamal Nath will be called upon to use his resourcefulness to inject a momentum into the party’s as quickly as possible to face the poll change.
The central leaderhip took its time in announcing a leadership change in the Madhya Pradesh as it weighed various options.
There was speculation that Jyotiradtiya Scindia, 47, a four-time MP, would be declared the chief ministerial candidate.
Kamal Nath was in favour of an early announcement of the chief ministerial candidate and had gone on record to state that he would welcome announcement about Scindia being declared the candidate.
Scindia has now been made Chairman of the Campaign Committee for the assembly polls.
Though the party has not formally announced a Chief Ministerial candidate, Kamal Nath is seen as a front runner for the post in case the party gets a majority.
Kamal Nath has signalled that he will take along all leaders, including former Chief Minister Digvijay Singh, in his efforts to unseat the BJP. Singh had embarked on a Narmada Yatra recently and has considerable support base across the state.
Among the factors that seem to have worked in favour of Kamal Nath are his vast organisational and administrative experience and his resourcefulness.
Kamal Nath’s appointment also signals Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s endeavour to give regard to experience of party’s senior leadership while making crucial election-related decisions.
There was speculation that young leaders will be appointed to key posts in states after Gandhi’s elevation as party chief in December last.
Kamal Nath not only has to take on three-time Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan in the electoral arena but faces a BJP election machinery which has shown considerable booth level dexterity under party chief Amit Shah. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP’s most popular campaigner, is also expected to campaign extensively in Madhya Pradesh in the run-up to the assembly polls.
Kamal Nath will be expected to replicate at state level his own expertise in repeatedly winning elections from Chhindwara.
He has undertaken several welfare initiatives in Chhindwara and maintained a connect with the voters. He retained his seat in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls despite the BJP sweeping the elections in Madhya Pradesh. He was later elected pro-term Speaker, being the senior-most member of the 16th Lok Sabha.
Kamal Nath has been a union minister in different Congress-led governments and has also held organisational posts including being in-charge of Gujarat and Haryana in his nearly four-decade political career.
Kamal Nath also has friends across the political spectrum. A friend of the late Sanjay Gandhi, he was first elected to Lok Sabha in 1980. He was Minister of Environment and Forests as also Textiles Minister during the Narasimha Rao government.
Kamal Nath was a key member of the two UPA governments and was Commerce and Industry Minister from 2004-2009. During the UPA-II government, he held portfolios of Road Transport and Highways, Urban Development and Parliamentary Affairs.
As India’s Commerce minister, he championed the cause of developing countries at WTO ministerial meetings.
He also took initiatives for the protection of the environment.