Congress leader Kamal Nath has resigned as Madhya Pradesh chief minister even before the floor test could take place in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly. The stage is now set for the BJP to return to power in the state, in all probability under the leadership of three-time chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
What Went Wrong for Kamal Nath?
The immediate trigger for his downfall was the rebellion of Jyotiraditya Scindia, who left Congress on 10 March and joined the BJP a day later. Twenty-two MLAs, many of them Scindia loyalists, had already resigned by then, supposedly in protest against what they called an insult to their leader.
But there’s more to it.
The Congress in Madhya Pradesh has always been a divided house – not just now, but for the past several decades. In the 1980s, the rivalry was between Arjun Singh and the Shukla brothers. In the 1990s, the rivalry was between three factions: Arjun Singh and Digvijaya Singh in one camp, the Shukla brothers in the second, and Madhavrao Scindia in the third. For all these years, Kamal Nath remained focused on the Centre, despite maintaining his hold over his bastion, Chhindwara.
But he was made the president of the Madhya Pradesh Congress, and therefore, the party’s de-facto candidate for the 2018 Assembly elections. This also made him another power centre in the state Congress, besides rivals Digvijaya Singh and Jyotiraditya Scindia.
Scindia’s supporters claim that Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh closed ranks and sidelined him, and that the tipping point came when the party didn’t make him their first choice in the Rajya Sabha elections, choosing Digvijaya Singh instead.
There was also criticism from the rebel MLAs regarding Kamal Nath’s style of functioning. They said that he didn’t speak to them or get their work done. Even neutral people do point out that Kamal Nath’s hands-on, unilateral style of functioning didn’t go down well with many.
However, it wasn’t just state-level factors that led to the government’s downfall. There were at least two crucial national factors as well.
First, the vacuum in the Congress’ national leadership meant that there was no one who could mediate and solve the tussle between Kamal Nath and Scindia.
The second national factor is the BJP’s constant hunger for expanding its political power, even if it meant destabilising a non-BJP government in the middle of an international health crisis.
What Happens Next?
After Kamal Nath’s resignation, Governor Lalji Tandon will invite the BJP to form government in the state. The numbers are in BJP’s favour as of now, so the floor test may not be a problem. But like what happened in Karnataka, by-elections will be held in all the seats that have fallen vacant. The BJP would need to win at least eight out of the 23 vacant seats to be able to cross the half-way mark.
The main challenge for the BJP would be to balance the demands of its own leaders with the demands of those who are likely to join from the Congress.