Bhopal, Oct 1 (IANS): With over 40 years of political experience, veteran Congress leader Kamal Nath, 76, is leading the party for a heated political battle against Madhya Pradesh's ruling BJP for second time in the Assembly elections due by end of this year.
But, unlike the 2018 Assembly elections when it won 114 seats against BJP’s 109, Kamal Nath led the Congress will have a direct contest with the BJP’s central leadership – Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the saffron party has strategically sidelined incumbent Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to counter anti-incumbency against him.
Projecting PM Modi a the main face in the MP Assembly election may be viewed differently – as bid to control high factionalism within the state unit and bring unity, to bring transformation in leadership or a bitter and hidden political battle between Modi and long-serving CM Chouhan, but political analysts also seeing it as part of strategy to "discomfort" the Congress to some extent.
Due to multiple scams and corruption in the governance and growing crime against women and weaker section of people, CM Chouhan has undoubtedly been in receiving end, and therefore, the BJP’s election strategists sought to play this master stroke at the last minute.
However, Kamal Nath, along with his veteran colleague and Rajya Sabha member Digvijaya Singh, has decided to contest the election keeping CM Chouhan’s 18 years of rule as main targets to win the sentiments of the people.
"Even as the BJP has projected PM Modi’s face for MP’s assembly polls, Kamal Nath led Congress will avoid direct contest with him, instead it will keep targeting on CM Chouhan till the last moment, because BJP’s central leadership will make all efforts to divert the attention from local issues," a Delhi-based senior journalist said.
Importantly, to counter the BJP's main strategy of polarisation with communal card, seasoned politician Kamal Nath has projected himself as devotee of 'Lord Hanuman' and adopted soft Hindutva. Even as a section of Congress raised questions over this approach, Kamal Nath stood firm on his decision.
Kamal Nath, who is very close to Gandhi family, has joined MP politics actively few months before the Assembly elections in 2018, and he had to face challenges within the state's Congress unit, which was shattered with due to beack to back defeat in three consecutive assembly elections - 2003, 2008, and 2013.
High factionalism, which is an old tradition of MP politics and boosting confidence of party's cadre was another challenge.
However in span of five years, he has made structural changes and also won the elections in 2018. However, the factionalism did not disappear and a faction led by Jyotiraditya Scindia shifted into the BJP, and Kamal Nath's government was toppled.
But, the municipal elections held last year energised the Congress workers again as it won five out of 16 mayoral seats, including Gwalior, Morena and Rewa after two decades.
More importantly that Kamal Nath has got full co-operation from Digvijaya Singh, who has served as Chief Minister for 10 years and has strong base on the ground.
During his public addresses or interactions with the press, Kamal Nath keeps his speech "apt" and "specific", instead of making lengthy discourses. Being specific on his target, he would not miss to mention three issues - corruption, atrocities against women and weaker sections, the paralysed economy of the state, and employment for youths.
Being a successful businesman, who has headed the Union Commerce and Industry Ministry, Kamal Nath has a strong relationship with business houses and he emphasised on economic activities. He would often target CM Chouhan on the state's economic issue saying: "Investment can't be demanded, it comes through attractive policies and creating faith."
Political analysts said having experience of running industries and relationship with big business houses keep Kamal Nath on upper hand than the incumbent CM Chouhan. Kamal Nath is leader of urban class people, while, Chouhan is closely connected with rural class population.
"Shivraj Singh Chouhan has a different expertise, he is knows problems of farmers, basic requirement of life of poor people, but he is fully dependent on bureaucrats on economy and industrialisation. Which is the reason, he failed to create jobs for youths. Whereas, Kamal Nath himself is a policymaker. When he talks about job creation, and if he gets control over MP's governance for five years, he would have to utilise all his experience, otherwise, he will be facing the same questions as Shivraj Chouhan is facing today," a political analyst said.