New Delhi: The Congress should pick Jyotiraditya Scindia as its presumptive Chief Minister for Madhya Pradesh, said Kamal Nath, the party's most senior leader from the state, after they addressed a rally together.
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Kamal Nath, 70, is seen as a contender for that post himself, given his vast popularity (he has been elected nine consecutive times from the constituency of Chhindawara) and his experience. For months, the Congress' top leadership -- Sonia and Rahul Gandhi -- have dithered over choosing between the veteran and Mr Scindia, who is 46 years old, belongs to the former royal family of Gwalior, and is a close aide of Mr Gandhi.
Senior Congress leader P Chidambram said today that the party has not yet cast its vote.
In an interview with ndtv.com last month, Kamal Nath refuted reports of him threatening to leave the Congress to join the BJP if he is not given a shot at running for Chief Minister, which many believe is his dream job. "I have no problem with Jyotiraditya Scindia if he's made MPCC chief," he said when asked about who will be picked as chief of the Congress in the state and therefore run the election. "I would welcome it and work with him and support him."
Kamal Nath is touring his home state ahead of the election which is due by late 2018. Yesterday, another Congress veteran, Digvijaya Singh, who has served twice as Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, announced his own six-month tour. Though he said he would shun politics and use the 3,400-km journey to seek people's feedback, the itinerary is being read by the Congress as a forceful attempt by Mr Singh to prove that he is relevant, holds control over large swathes of cadre, and should not be marginalised by the party as it toggles between Kamal Nath and Mr Scindia to assign responsibility for the election.
The BJP has governed Madhya Pradesh uninterrupted since 2003. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan will seek a fourth consecutive term. The Congress hopes to leverage anti-incumbency and a firing on farmers in June that left seven people dead to target Mr Chouhan. But its indecision so far in naming its main leader in Madhya Pradesh is seen as characteristic of a party unable to take tough calls early enough to gain maximum advantage.
In the election in Punjab earlier this year, Captain Amarinder Singh had to virtually coerce the Congress into declaring him as its Chief Ministerial candidate. He went on to win the election, supplying the party with one of its rare electoral triumphs in recent years.
His success has been cited by Congress leaders as proof that the party stands a better chance when it makes clear to voters who it is offering as head of the government.