"INDIA nahi hone wali… cancel ho gayi" (It (the Bhopal rally) is not going to happen; it has been cancelled)."
On Sunday, 17 August, while announcing the Congress' Madhya Pradesh unit's 'Jan Akrosh Rally' ahead of the 2023 Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections, party chief Kamal Nath sternly stated that the proposed 'INDIA' alliance rally in Bhopal would not happen.
Though the Congress appears divided on Kamal Nath's stance, MP election in-charge Randeep Surjewala said during a press conference that a decision on the rally's time and location had not been finalised yet.
Needless to say, the former chief minister's statement has churned out a strong political buzz in the state. Political commentators believe that Kamal Nath's snub finds relevance in his determination to not let anything distract him from the upcoming Assembly elections.
'INDIA' Rally May Water Down Congress' Campaigns
In Madhya Pradesh, which is slated to go to polls before the end of this year, Congress leaders, including Kamal Nath, does not want to host the 'INDIA' bloc's rally – and their reasons are clear.
Speaking to The Quint, a senior Congress functionary said:
"We don't want to host a rally at this crucial time, ahead of the Vidhan Sabha elections. It will distract our workers, and we will have to allocate a substantial amount of resources, manpower, and party workers to host this rally, impacting our own campaign in the state."
Sources in the party also indicate that Kamal Nath had tried to decline hosting the rally through internal channels, but his appeals went unheard.
"Kamal Nath ji had tried to communicate through the regular channels, but it didn't work out. Hence, he took the other (media) route," a party source told The Quint.
Another party source said that the state unit – being the biggest among the alliance members in MP – will have to do everything on its own, making it very difficult to prepare for a rally.
The source further mentioned that the Congress is already invested in Priyanka Gandhi Vadra's rally slated to be held on 5 October in the state's Dhar.
Speaking to The Quint, Javed Ali Khan, INDIA bloc's coordination committee member, said it was the Congress that had proposed that the rally be held in Bhopal. However, the state unit probably wasn't ready to hold the rally within the stipulated time frame, he added.
"I have been told that the state unit had other engagements, and so the rally couldn't proceed as planned. Now they have cancelled it and they will come up with another proposal soon."
Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has linked the 'cancellation' to the 'Sanatana Dharma' controversy, triggered by a recent statement made by Udhayanidhi Stalin, a leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which is part of the 'INDIA' bloc.
MP CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan, taking a dig at the alliance, said: "This is the anger of the public. Sanatana Dharma was insulted and was called dengue and malaria. The people of Madhya Pradesh will not tolerate this… The people of MP were angry and they ('INDIA' members) were scared. Therefore, they cancelled their rally…"
Kamal Nath & His Singular Focus on Winning
Kamal Nath is known for his business acumen, political savviness, and management skills – and his sights are set on winning the elections, sources close to his office said.
They added that he doesn't want to be bogged down by any "pit-stops or disturbances."
"He has set his sights on winning the elections, and everyone knows that it is going to be his last. He himself has said this publicly many times, and that's why he wants to do this in his own way."A party source
Kamal Nath "not wanting any distractions" can be substantiated by his own statement, wherein he urged the media to let him work on the campaign and direct questions to Randeep Surjewala.
"Ab aapko jab bhi koi baat karni ho, aap Surjewala ji se keejiyega, mere paas mat aaiyega… mujhe chhoot de deejiye ki main pradesh ki ran-neeti banaun…" (Whenever you have questions, go to Surjewala rather than coming to me. Allow me to plan the assembly elections in MP)," he said on Sunday.
Senior political commentator Rasheed Kidwai said that Kamal Nath's refusal to host the rally finds grounds not only in the issues of resources, expenses, and political stakes, but also in Nath's approach to the MP Assembly elections.
"There are definitely issues of resources, expenses, and practicality, but we also have to look at how Kamal Nath is looking at elections. This is a very interesting election that the Congress is fighting in Madhya Pradesh, with the state unit under Kamal Nath almost working as an autonomous body with a singular focus on winning."Rasheed Kidwai
Senior journalists, too, opine that Kamal Nath's focus on the state elections knows no bounds.
"As far as Kamal Nath and MP elections go, he is very clear on what and how he wants to fight the elections. He is least bothered by the media. He wants to interact less and work more, be present on the ground. He wants to leave no stone unturned, and his determination stems from the hurt that he suffered when his government was toppled by [Jyotiraditya] Scindia and his associates in 2020," a journalist, on the condition of anonymity, told The Quint.