Kamal Nath, a veteran troubleshooter is now Madhya Pradesh chief minister

On Thursday, Kamal Nath returned to his home state of Madhya Pradesh as chief minister after helping his party score a photo finish victory over the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) , ending 15 years in the wilderness.

 

He is the senior-most member of the Lok Sabha who has represented his pocket borough of Chhindwara nine times, having spent most of his political life in Delhi as a Union minister and a senior national leader of the Congress party.

On Thursday, Kamal Nath returned to his home state of Madhya Pradesh as chief minister after helping his party score a photo finish victory over the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) , ending 15 years in the wilderness.

Nath was made Madhya Pradesh Congress chief this April with the task of ensuring the return of the party to power in Bhopal, barely seven months before assembly elections were scheduled. He took charge of the state unit at the time the party was riddled with factionalism and the morale of the party workers was down following an impressive win by the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Tripura. He, with other senior leaders such as campaign committee chairperson Jyotiraditya Scindia, took it upon himself to rejuvenate the cadre.

The 72-year-old politician from southern Madhya Pradesh burst onto the political scene in 1980 when he won from Chhindwara. The Congress denied him a Lok Sabha ticket in 1996 when his name cropped up in a Hawala scam, a charge he vehemently denied. His wife Alka Nath contested and won. When his name was cleared, a year later, his wife paved the way for him to contest. But he lost, only to come back in the next polls in 1998.

Born in Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh in 1946, Nath made Chhindwara his bastion but that always didn’t help the Congress in the Mahakoshal area, where his Lok Sabha constituency falls. In fact, in the past three assembly elections where the BJP won, the saffron party always did better than the Congress in the region. It is only in this election that the Congress bounced back, winning 28 seats in the region, compared to the BJP’s 18.

During the campaign, outgoing chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan repeatedly attacked Nath and called him an “outsider”, a reference to the Congress politician having spent the better part of his political life in national politics. The BJP also accused him of being involved in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots but Nath rebutted the allegations, saying he had never been charged by any court.

A commerce graduate from Kolkata, Nath started his political life in the Youth Congress, where he was spotted by former prime minister Indira Gandhi’s son Sanjay Gandhi. He gradually grew close to members of the Gandhi family. He was inducted as junior minister in the P.V. Narasimha Rao government and was made in-charge of the environment ministry in 1991. When the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government came to power in 2004, Nath was named the Union commerce minister. When the Congress-led coalition won a second term in 2009, he was made the roads and highways minister but was shifted to urban development after perceived differences with then Planning Commission vice-chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

“Nath’s nomination [as state Congress chief] helped the party to put to an end to factionalism,” said the political commentator Girija Shankar. “He has had vast administrative experience and is known as a troubleshooter.”

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