In a major snub to the Election Commission, the Supreme Court on Monday stayed the order omitting former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath’s name from the list of star campaigners, and ruled that the notification was a violation of the Representation of Peoples’ Act.
The three-member bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde questioned the poll body over its decision. “Where does the EC have the power to determine who will be the leader of a party under Section 77 of the RP Act,” the court asked while restoring status quo, and rejecting the government counsel’s argument, that the matter was infructuous, since the polls were slated for Tuesday.
The apex court directive came as a shot in the arm for Kamal Nath, who has singularly led the fight against the BJP in the 28 Assembly seats that go to polls. Significantly, he has been the leader of the Opposition, the strategist, the treasurer and the functional PCC boss in this campaign and therefore the outcome would be a litmus test for him.
In fact, the contest in Madhya Pradesh is indeed unique. Out of the 28 seats that are witnessing a confrontation between Kamal Nath and the BJP, 25 constituencies are those, where Congress defectors are in the fray on the lotus symbol. Although the BJP’s local leaders were initially upset that their seats had been given to “outsiders”, they have been persuaded by their state leadership to recognise the fact that if the party loses, the fruits of the spoils of power would also be denied to them. As a consequence, the entire BJP rank and file was on Monday standing behind those who had crossed over along with Jyotirditya Scindia, resulting in the fall of the Congress government.
The Madhya Pradesh showdown is, at one level, also a test of the ground level support which Kamal Nath and Scindia enjoy. The myth of the Scindias’ sway over the Gwalior-Chambal belt is possibly going to explode, since the Congress narrative that they had usurped land during the past several decades and had sided with anti-national forces during the freedom struggle, is finding resonance. In his direct attack on the former rulers of the region, Kamal Nath has been highlighting their role in the defeat and killing of Rani of Jhansi. The Congress strategy is also to showcase the Scindias as “land grabbers”.
The Congress has made deep inroads in what were considered to be the Scindia bastions and has succeeded in convincing the residents that if in the past leaders like K.P. Singh won from there, it was due to their own popularity and the Scindias had nothing to do with it. However, what the Congress is facing is that the BJP has put all its organisational might in these 28 seats and in a way, the contest has turned to be a test of Kamal Nath’s efforts to rebuild the Congress organisation in these regions. He has done this through sheer networking and coordination with the cadres. The irony is that the party is faring beyond expectations despite the fact that neither central leader nor state satraps such as Digvijaya Singh are extending a helping hand. It has been Kamal Nath’s show all the way.
It is well known that the only reason why Shivraj Singh Chauhan was reinstated as the MP Chief Minister by his Central leadership was because he is perhaps the only one who shares a rapport with his rank and file. The fear in the Chauhan camp is that his days could be numbered if the BJP wins, and he could be replaced with those who have been waiting in the wings and enjoy a close proximity with the current party leadership.
The political significance of the Madhya Pradesh elections as opposed to by-elections and the state Assembly polls in Bihar is that it is one man’s fight against the ruling dispensation. Kamal Nath has won more Lok Sabha polls than any of his contemporaries who are still in active politics and is known for his electoral management skills. The fact that he has not moved out of the state since his government was toppled shows his determination. Unlike Bihar, where the Mahagathbandhan is collectively in the contest under Tejashwi Yadav, the Congress fightback in MP is solely because of Kamal Nath. This would be a referendum on his abilities and shall also be his ultimate test. The future of the Congress in the state hinges on that.