Knives are out for veteran Congress leader Kamal Nath ever since the party suffered a shock defeat in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly polls.
As the Bharatiya Janata Party top brass mulled the choice of chief ministers for Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the main claimants for this coveted post were forced to rein themselves in. Though former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje did meet a group of newly-elected legislators loyal to her, she was constrained from challenging the party leadership because she has to consider her son Dushyant Singh’s political career. Similarly, former Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh has to necessarily lie low because of his son Abhishek, who won a Lok Sabha seat in 2014 but was denied a ticket in the 2019 general election after the BJP wipe-out in the 2018 state election. Then there is Madhya Pradesh’s Shivraj Singh Chouhan who is grooming his two sons — Kartikeya and Kunal — in politics. Apparently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah were not pleased with Chouhan’s efforts to promote his sons by taking them with him to public functions. At one point, Chouhan’s wife Sadhna was always in the news and was privately referred to as his fund manager. She has not been seen or heard in public for the past several years. The political future of the four sons appears uncertain.
Knives are out for veteran Congress leader Kamal Nath ever since the party suffered a shock defeat in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly polls. As president of the party’s state unit, Kamal Nath, who led the election campaign, had convinced the Congress leadership that they were on their way to wresting the state from the Bharatiya Janata Party. No sooner were the results declared that conspiracy theories started doing the rounds. The chatter in the party is that there was internal sabotage and that Kamal Nath gave up the fight weeks before polling day. It is being whispered that the former chief minister was under pressure to forgo the election as his businessman nephew Ratul Puri is being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation for several fraud cases. He was taken into custody and is currently out on bail. Others in the party maintain it was Mr Nath’s over-confidence which did the Congress in. Mr Nath and his coterie members, they charged, were so sure of forming the next government that they started acting as if they were already in power.
And in Rajasthan, former president of the Congress state unit Sachin Pilot is enjoying the plight of his bete noire, outgoing chief minister Ashok Gehlot who has come under sharp attack from his officer on special duty Lokesh Sharma. Not only does Mr Gehlot suffer the ignominy of a defeat but he has now to contend with Mr Sharma’s public barbs. Denied a ticket in the recent election, Mr Sharma launched an all-out offensive against his former boss, saying that Mr Gehlot was solely responsible for the party’s marginalisation and that Mr Gehlot did not provide the right feedback to the Congress leadership and did not allow an alternative leader to emerge in the state. This last bit is obviously music to Mr Pilot’s ears given his long standing battle with Mr Gehlot for greater political space. Mr Pilot has not made any public statement but he is not averse to drawing the media’s attention to Mr Sharma’s outburst against Mr Gehlot.
Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav was quick to lash out at the Congress after its poor performance in the three Hindi heartland states. But reports from Lucknow suggest that Akhilesh’s party is in no better position in Uttar Pradesh. It is expected that as the biggest Opposition party in the electorally important state, the Samajwadi Party would line up a series of political activities to energise its own cadre and highlight people’s grievances. But Akhilesh Yadav and the other Opposition parties, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress, seem to have given up the fight. BSP chief Mayawati surfaces occasionally to issue a statement while the Congress UP-in charge Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is busy campaigning in other states. In contrast, the BJP has been preparing for the polls for the past several months. Its state unit and local leaders are constantly organising some programme or the other, be it a voter awareness campaign, helping people with scrutiny of electoral rolls or taking out yatras in their respective constituencies. They are visible and vocal but the same can’t be said about the other Opposition parties.
After the Congress losses in the three Assembly elections, there is a buzz in the party about the need for a generational shift and replacing the old guard with younger leaders. Sceptics maintain this may prove difficult as the Congress has so far failed to groom a second line of leaders, pointing out that it could not even find chief ministers from its own ranks. Two of its three chief ministers — Siddaramaiah and A. Revanth Reddy — are lateral entrants to the party. The Karnataka chief minister is from the Janata Dal family while the new Telangana chief minister began with the ABVP and was with the Telugu Desam Party before joining the Congress. In fact, this is a sore point with Congress old timers who feel “outsiders” are being rewarded while loyalists have been ignored.