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Will He, Won’t He? On the Buzz Around Kamal Nath's Potential Crossover to BJP

Does this episode have something to do with the alleged sidelining of the Congress veteran from MP's politics?

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During the weekend, a BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) member was busy browsing on WhatsApp as I discussed with him in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, the buzz around veteran Congress party leader Kamal Nath’s possible entry into the saffron party. After scrolling for a bit, he finally placed his mobile phone on the table and said with a deep sigh, "I can see a huge backlash."

Will Nath join the BJP, I asked. “Mushkil hai” (It is difficult), he said.

But the same evening, the buzz became louder when Nath, accompanied by his son, left Chhindwara (his Vidhan Sabha constituency) for Delhi. The scene shifted to the national capital where the BJP was holding its two-day national council meeting. The media reported that Nath was all set to join the party during that event.

Before heading to Delhi, his son and MP (Member of Parliament) from Chhindwara, Nakul Nath, had already dropped the word "Congress" from his Twitter (now known as X) bio. Congress MP from Chhindwara became MP from Chhindwara.
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The mouthpiece of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), the Organiser, further fuelled these speculations with its 18 February story with the headline BJP’s Mass Joining: Possible yes to Kamal Nath, No to Sidhu; Congress & other parties MPs, MLAs to join in next 10 days.

By late afternoon, social media platforms and TV screens were bursting with rumours. Amidst all of this, Kamal Nath neither denied the stories nor admitted them. But by evening, the matter died down after a statement given by Sajjan Verma, Nath’s confidante in Madhya Pradesh, saying that he has no plans of joining the BJP.

But was there any substance in the rumours revolving around Nath’s possible crossover to the BJP? Was there any political deal that did not materialise? Does this episode have something to do with the alleged sidelining of the Congress veteran from Madhya Pradesh's politics after the party’s drubbing in the recent assembly polls?

An MLA from Chhindwara, did Kamal Nath want a Rajya Sabha berth to go back to Delhi's politics which was denied to him, making him unhappy? Above all, why would the BJP want Kamal Nath and how would it benefit a party that is already so powerful?

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The Shadow of the 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots

There were two main issues vis à vis Kamal Nath and the BJP.

Firstly, Chhindwara remains an impregnable fort and the saffron surge has not been able to dent it. In 2019, the BJP won all the Lok Sabha seats in the state except Chhindwara, like a thorn in the party's flesh. This time, it is aiming at winning all the 29, and Nath and his son’s entry would have made it likely.

In 2019, Nath’s son won the seat with a slender margin of a little over 37,000 votes. The recent Congress defeat and the Ram Mandir wave have reportedly shaken his confidence, who is also concerned about the future of his son and that of the Chhindwara citadel.

Referring to other reasons, allegedly common in most such defections of opposition leaders to the BJP, Nath’s long-time associate Digvijaya Singh said, “A person like Kamal Nath cannot buckle under the threat of raids by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and other central agencies.”

The BJP insider who had termed “mushkil hai” to Kamal Nath’s entry into the BJP had referred to the latter’s alleged links with the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. “The very thought of this issue is creating a backlash. The whole issue of the anti-Sikh riots would get inflamed if Nath joins the BJP that too amidst the ongoing Kisan Andolan”.

Even Jyotiraditya Scindia, Nath’s bête noir, was reportedly unhappy over these political developments, a source in the party told me. But can such murmurs be entertained in the Modi-Shah era of the BJP? Top party sources said, “NO.” The source hastened to add,” No one wants to take any risk just before Lok Sabha polls.”

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Kamal Nath is Feeling Sidelined

The BJP still has good reason to induct Nath in the saffron fold, with Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra scheduled to reach MP on or around 3 March (the date is yet to be finalised). “If Nath defected, it will be a very big psychological jolt for the Congress party,” a Congress leader said told me.

Irrespective of the political happenings, one thing is sure. Kamal Nath, one of the very few senior politicians of the country who has contested the most elections and won, has made it clear that he was unhappy with the present leadership of the party in Delhi as well as in Madhya Pradesh.

For the past few days, his trusted associates seemed to be speaking on his behalf. Nath himself chose to avoid the media and whatever brief interactions he had with TV journalists, his vague one-liners fueled the fire.

Deepak Saxena, a former MLA and a close confidante of Kamal Nath, had media interactions elaborating on the developments on why Nath might join the BJP. “Congress lost in all the three states, that is, MP, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan, but only Kamal Nath is being held responsible for the defeat. He is being sidelined. He was also not sent to Rajya Sabha.”

But another close associate, Sajjan Singh Verma, a former MLA, put to rest all the speculations on the evening of 18 February. “There was no such move. I talked to Kamal Nath ji and he was focused on the Lok Sabha polls. He is working on the list of the probable Congress candidates for Madhya Pradesh”

Congress insiders, however, claimed that because Nath may have not been able to strike a deal with the BJP, he seems to have struck one with the Congress to salvage some of his lost pride. Nevertheless, for the time being, it looks like it's curtains for the political drama.

(The author is a senior journalist based in Madhya Pradesh. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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