In a political career spanning over 40 years, Kamal Nath faced, arguably, his most challenging battle this March was when he was forced to resign as Madhya Pradesh chief minister just 15 months after assuming office. The defeat of 73-year-old Nath, orchestrated by Jyotiraditya Scindia has also come as a shock to the Congress at a time when it is fighting to stay relevant in Indian politics. Nath spoke to Puneet Nicholas Yadav about what went wrong but maintained that the loss of his government is only a temporary setback.
The Congress won a hard-earned victory in December 2018 against the BJP, which had ruled Madhya Pradesh for 15 consecutive years. Your government collapsed in 15 months. What went wrong?
From the time I assumed office, the BJP began plotting to topple our government. The BJP could never come to terms with having lost the assembly polls.
Of the 15 months that I was chief minister, over two months were wasted because of the model code of conduct for the Lok Sabha polls. Effectively, my government could function only for a little over 12 months. In these 12 months, we managed to fulfill or initiate the process to fulfill 400 of our manifesto promises, starting with the loan waiver for farmers. I also launched a war against the mafia that was thriving under the BJP’s rule. We ensured uninterrupted power supply across the state. I gave a model of governance that was different from the BJP’s—our model was based on accountability, was oriented towards the people and towards delivery. The BJP and the mafia that thrived under the party couldn’t digest this. And yes, I also did not calculate that some of our MLAs would fall for the lure of money.
So was your confidence in your MLAs misplaced? Did you place too much trust in them and on Jyotiraditya Scindia?
Politics has to be based on trust. If a leader can’t trust his team, who will he trust? Perhaps, I placed too much confidence in them but I still believe that the MLAs who betrayed us were under tremendous pressure and this was not just the pressure of money.
As for Scindia, all I wish to say is that I know there were other reasons for his switch to the BJP than the ones he has spoken about. He says he joined the BJP because my government did not fulfill its promises. I have videos of him publicly congratulating my government for fulfilling our election promises. There are photographs of him, tweets he has posted saying cheques for the second installment of the loan waiver scheme are being given to the farmers. The fact is that Scindia had made up his mind to leave (the Congress) and is now cooking up excuses to justify his action.
Victor and vanquished Kamal Nath with his successor Shivraj Singh Chouhan (left).
There were reports through your 15-month stint about you and Digvijaya Singh plotting to sideline Scindia; reports that he was upset at not being made the state Congress chief and being denied a Rajya Sabha berth? Was that the flashpoint?
These are lies and fabrications. I do not think he wanted to become the state Congress president. He even told the Congress president (Sonia Gandhi) this and instead wanted his nominee to be given the job. She asked him to suggest a name but he never did.
To be honest, after Scindia lost the (Lok Sabha) election, he turned into a different person. I shared an excellent rapport with Scindia. I tried to work things out. In fact, I met him on February 29 (nine days before he resigned from the Congress) and it was a very cordial meeting; we had dinner together. What really made him desert the Congress is a question he should answer honestly; why is it being posed to me?
Going by your experience of the past 15 months, would you say you began with a handicap as chief minister because you had never been directly involved in state-level politics?
At the national level, as a minister you are in charge of your ministry or at the party level you are responsible for whatever specific task you are given; essentially you are macro-managing things. As chief minister, it is all about micro management. Often a chief minister must act as a minister of all departments. Having said that, I do not think I began with a handicap because I had vast administrative experience.
In MP, the bureaucracy had got used to working in a certain way for 15 years of BJP’s rule wherein it was the bureaucrat who would tell the CM what he should do. In my government, I told bureaucrats what they must do. It took a short while but the bureaucracy eventually came around.
But the Congress MLAs who quit, including six who were ministers in your cabinet, claim that the bureaucracy never listened to them. The ministers allege that even you refused to listen to them.
These people have to make some excuses to justify their betrayal. They can’t say they went to the BJP because of the allurement of money. These ministers who have gone with Scindia were all given important portfolios. One of the most important campaigns launched by my government to fight against the food adulteration mafia was under one of these ministers (Tulsi Silavat).
In his press conference after you resigned, Shivraj Singh Chouhan blamed Digvijaya Singh for the problems in your government but remained silent on you.
Digvijaya Singh had no role to play in my government.
The BJP may have formed a government now but it has 105 MLAs currently, which means it doesn’t have a majority. There are bypolls for 25 seats that have to be held within six months. Do you see a period of prolonged political instability in MP?
Obviously. These MLAs who have resigned have attacked the BJP all through their political lives and the BJP has attacked them. Now these MLAs have to go back to their constituencies and explain their actions and the BJP has to go to its workers and tell them why these new entrants are taking the place of the veterans. It will be an untenable situation. Just search (online) what Scindia used to say about Shivraj or what Shivraj said about Scindia till a month ago. The BJP has swallowed a bitter pill only for the short-term gain of toppling my government. These people have turned politics and governance into a joke and it is the public that is suffering.
Are you saying that the BJP with Scindia and his loyalists will collapse under its own contradictions? This is exactly what the BJP used to say about your government till a month ago.
There were no contradictions so far as my government was concerned. The BJP wanted to topple my government from Day One. I proved my majority thrice and they got desperate. Finally, they got hold of Scindia and with whatever allurements they offered, I don’t want to comment on those, they succeeded in making him defect along with 22 MLAs. I don’t know what Scindia promised them besides toppling my government but let the BJP now deal with the problems it has raised for itself. Why should I be bothered?
What will be Kamal Nath’s role in MP politics now?
Well, I am here in Bhopal. I have no plans of moving back to Delhi. This was a stumble, not a fall. The Congress will come back; mark my words.