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Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath. (HT)
Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath. (HT)

BJP, allies keep Kamal Nath on the edge

  • Discontent within the Congress is brewing as MLAs raise questions about defeat in Lok Sabha polls, seek change in state leadership
  • A couple of ministers in the Kamal Nath cabinet have on record demanded that Congress general secretary Jyotiraditya Scindia be made the state party president

BHOPAL : A crushing defeat in the Lok Sabha elections has made the five-month-old Congress government in Madhya Pradesh vulnerable, buffeted by a resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), demanding allies, and simmering discontent within the ruling party.

More and more Congress and independent legislators have been raising questions about the party’s debacle. This has prompted Chief Minister Kamal Nath to hold a series of meetings with Congress legislators and allies over the last three days in a bid to minimize the effect of the Lok Sabha elections on the government.

Independent legislator Surendra Singh Thakur blamed the Congress debacle on a lack of “proper strategies" but said he would continue to support the government. In the run up to the elections, Congress legislators K.P. Singh, Bisahulal Singh and Rajyavardhan Singh had openly expressed their displeasure at being left out of the state cabinet. Another Congress legislator, Hardeep Singh Dang, has had to reject speculation that he was joining the BJP.

Nath, who continues to also hold the post of state Congress chief should think of giving it to someone else, said a senior Congress minister on condition of anonymity. The minister did not name an alternative but a couple of other ministers in the Kamal Nath cabinet have on record demanded that Congress general secretary Jyotiraditya Scindia be made the state party president.

The BJP has also swung into action after its landslide victory in the general elections. The party’s vice-president and Madhya Pradesh in-charge Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, who is camping in Bhopal, said that the BJP will not topple the Congress government. But Sahasrabuddhe said he will not be surprised if it fell on its own. “This government has been bogged down by internal contradictions from day one," he said on Tuesday.

The BJP has put in its best performance in the heartland state, winning 28 out of 29 Lok Sabha seats. The chief minister’s son Nakul Nath, who contested from Chhindwara, is the only Congress candidate to have won in the state, with heavyweights such as former chief minister Digvijaya Singh and Scindia having to bite the dust. Even the Chhindwara victory came with a low margin. Nakul Nath won by only 37,536 votes in the seat his father has represented a record 10 times. In 2014, despite the Modi wave, Kamal Nath had won by 116,537 votes.

The Lok Sabha election results have certainly increased the pressure on the chief minister, said Bhopal-based political commentator Girija Shankar. However, the BJP may not destabilize the government, he said. “I don’t think the BJP would make the mistake of dismissing the government or indulging in horse trading because it sees that the Congress and Nath are under immense pressure to accommodate dissenting party MLAs and allies. The Lok Sabha results have put the Congress in a vulnerable situation," he said.

This is a drastic change from the situation less than six months back, when the Congress emerged the single-largest party in the 230-member assembly, winning 114 seats, though the BJP was a close second with 109. Two legislators of the Bahujan Samaj Party, one of the Samajwadi Party, and four independents supported the Congress, enabling it to form a government in Madhya Pradesh after 15 years.

Nath has held a series of meetings with Congress legislators since Sunday. At a meeting on Monday, he even offered to resign if the legislators felt it would help the party, said the minister mentioned above. The chief minister even called the allies to some of these meetings. Nath may reshuffle his cabinet soon to accommodate sulking Congress legislators and allies, said Girija Shankar. Only one Independent legislator, Pradeep Jaiswal, has been accommodated in the 28-member cabinet.

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