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OPINION | Nath’s Operation Kamal: How Congress Miracle Worker Caught the BJP Napping in MP Assembly

A day after two BJP MLAs sided with the Kamal Nath government in the Assembly, buzz is that several other party MLAs are willing to switch over to the Congress.

Rasheed Kidwai |

Updated:July 25, 2019, 1:37 PM IST
OPINION | Nath’s Operation Kamal: How Congress Miracle Worker Caught the BJP Napping in MP Assembly
File photo of Madhya Pradesh CM Kamal Nath.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath has one-upped the BJP. Just as everyone was expecting the ‘monsoon exodus’ to turn from Karnataka to the central Indian state, Nath turned the tables on the BJP, poaching two of its MLAs.

Buzz is that several other BJP MLAs are willing to switch over. In Westminster parliamentary democracy, defections are blasphemous, curse and a national concern, but in realpolitik, they find wide acceptance and are seen as a sign of political bravado.

The media accords a sense of legitimacy to defections by describing these acts of skulduggery as ‘Chanakya-neeti’, ‘master stroke’ etc. As a recent editorial in The Economic and Political Weekly observed, the ease with which the elected representatives change sides indicates how our polity has become bereft of any ideological or principled moorings. “The self-perpetuating logic of earning money by acquiring power, and acquiring power through earned money is well-entrenched as the mainstream mode of doing electoral politics,” it said.

On his part, Kamal Nath has been a master of developing a network of interests. The graduate from Kolkata’s St Xavier’s cut his political teeth under Sanjay Gandhi. In June 1979, he lured maverick Raj Narain, then a close confidant of deputy prime minister Charan Singh, at Brig Kapil Mohan’s Pusa Road residence in New Delhi. The discussion over lehsun (garlic) and mushroom pakoras and tea resulted in a plot that saw Charan Singh, Raj Narain and others topple Morarji Desai as prime minister.

Charan Singh raised the bogey of dual membership, asking for the removal of Jan Sangh-RSS members from the Morarji Desai government. The farmer leader was subsequently sworn in as prime minister with the outside support of the Congress.

The bonhomie between Bharatiya Lok Dal and the Congress, which saw their workers raise the slogan ‘Charan Singh laya aisi aandhi, desh ki neta Indira Gandhi (Charan Singh heralds a new Indira Gandhi wave) was short-lived. Sanjay and Indira withdrew support to Charan Singh’s regime, giving him the dubious record of being the prime minister to leave office without ever facing Parliament.

Nath could not help gloating whenever the slogan ‘Indira Gandhi ke do haath; Sanjay Gandhi aur Kamal Nath’ was raised. In fact, tales of Nath’s political acumen require a volume. During the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, when he was pitted against a belligerent Prahlad Patel in Chhindwara, Nath had advised his BJP rival not to “waste” money on taking out a jeep rally. He had boasted that anyone owning a four-wheeler in his parliamentary constituency was personally known to him. The poll outcome on May 13, 2004 saw Nath beat Patel by over three lakh votes.

Nath loves the tag of a ‘go-getter’ and a ‘doer’. In 2008, the Manmohan Singh regime was struggling to push through a bill on FDI in retail. Nath performed a near miracle, bringing Mayawati to vote for the bill in the Rajya Sabha. Just as confident opposition leaders were retiring to bed, Nath was with Mayawati in the company of Satish Mishra, promising the BSP supremo to bring in SC/ST job reservation bill in Parliament in exchange for her support to the FDI bill.

Nath is known for his ready wit. He had narrated how while travelling from Paris to Brussels by train with then European Union trade commissioner Peter Mandelson, he had explained his stand against agricultural protectionism by the developed countries. "Here are the fat cows living on subsidised food and they can't stand on their legs. That is my story and that is my argument," he had told Mandelson.

On another occasion, he was asked what time he gets up in the morning. Nath quickly said, "First ask me what time I sleep!"

In Bhopal, it is now a common knowledge that the chief minister arrives at Vallabh Bhavan (state secretariat) at 10 am sharp and leaves exactly after 12 hours of uninterrupted work. Dinner is invariably served to him around 11 pm and work at his residence continues till around 2 am. At 73, this kind of stamina and zeal is remarkable.

The idea of causing a split within the BJP ranks was set in motion the day 15 Congress-JD(S) MLAs had fled from Bengaluru to a Mumbai hotel. Sensing division between Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Kailash Vijayvargiya and Gopal Bhargava camps in the state BJP, Nath’s backhand team, consisting of Suresh Pachauri, Arif Masood and others, worked on Narayan Tripathi, a former Samajwadi party chief of Madhya Pradesh, and Sharad Kol who was in the Youth Congress. Kol’s father Jugal was in Congress too.

The timing of Nath's 'Operation Kamal' was not without significance. It happened rather innocuously on the floor of the House where the BJP floor managers, including Leader of Opposition Gopal Bhargava, was caught napping. The Raj Bhavan is in the midst of transition where Governor Anandiben is busy packing bags for Lucknow and successor Lalji Tandon is set to be sworn in on July 29.

The BJP now has the task of retaliating and hitting back effectively in Madhya Pradesh. It is not an easy task; not because of the hands-on approach of Chief Minister Kamal Nath, but because of the caste and political loyalties of the bulk of Congress MLAs.

It is an open secret that virtually every Congress MLA in Madhya Pradesh has allegiance towards Congress regional satraps, namely Jyotiraditya Scindia, Digvijaya Singh, Kamal Nath, Suresh Pachauri, Ajay Singh and Kantilal Bhuria. A substantial chunk will come if the BJP manages to win over a regional satrap who in turn can bring a dozen odd MLAs.

(Rasheed Kidwai is a visiting Fellow with the Observer Research Foundation. Views are personal)

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| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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