At a lengthy and emotional press conference at noon, Kamal Nath said he was quitting as Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, sparing himself the ignominy of a floor test, lined up for two hours later, which he was certain to lose.
His resignation, delivered to the Governor, will facilitate the return of Shivraj Singh Chouhan for a fourth term as head of the large state.
Till yesterday afternoon, Kamal Nath refused to capitulate, claiming to NDTV in an interview that he was in "secret talks" with the 22 rebel MLAs from his party who were getting some forced R&R at a resort in faraway Bengaluru where they had been transported after the leader they pledge allegiance to, Jyotiradtiya Scindia, pole vaulted from the Congress to the BJP. It was clear then that Scindia had the power to bring down Kamal Nath's government. At his presser today, Kamal Nath, 73, referred caustically to the betrayal by a "Maharaj", accepting that it was 49-year-old Scindia whose collusion with the BJP has forced him out from power.
The comatose Congress had allowed, since December, when it won Madhya Pradesh, the prospect of a crash-and-burn. Headed by the Gandhis, the party refused Scindia's petition to give him some sort of equity in the decision-making in his home state. Kamal Nath and his one-time opponent, Digvijaya Singh, squad-ed to keep Scindia confined to Delhi. After various pleas went unentertained and the Gandhis refused to make time to see him, Scindia defected to the BJP and then proceeded to extract his full measure of revenge by getting 22 to resign. Once ensconced in Bengaluru, which is now established as Defector Central, they were impossible to woo back, despite a trip down south by Digvijaya Singh which saw his attempts to meet the MLAs skittered by the police.
"Maharaj (Scindia, from the erstwhile royal family of Gwalior) ne gira di Sarkar. Raja Digvijay Singh (erstwhile royal from Raghogarh) se pura badla liya," gloated a young Congress leader, who is primed for a Scindia-inspired switch. The "Scindia Shocker", as a senior Congress leader describes it, could open the flood gates for those leaders in the party who see themselves as vote-getters and not a part of what they call the "unelectables" that form the court around the Gandhi family.
Kamal Nath had a mere 15-month run before Scindia cut a path to the BJP and teamed with Shivraj Singh Chouhan to plot the big move including creating a political holding space in Bengaluru, governed by the BJP's BS Yediyurappa who himself returned to office in Karnataka after pulling down a Congress alliance last year.
Scindia had publicly signalled his anger and distress at being denied his due after he had buried his differences with Kamal Nath and Singh to work for a Congress win in the state election in December 2018. The Congress party had done particularly well in the Gwalior-Chambal belt (winning 26 of 34 seats) which is considered a Scindia bastion. Yet, when it came to the spoils of office, Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh ganged up and denied Scindia all political space. Sonia Gandhi, as interim Congress president, and Rahul Gandhi who describes Scindia as an " old college friend" did not step in as Kamal Nath and Singh repeatedly snubbed Scindia, even denying him a Rajya Sabha seat.
The two big takeaways from the MP debacle for the Congress is that the fight between Team Sonia and Team Rahul is now critical and damaging the party. Rahul Gandhi seems to have launched a guerrilla war against his own senior leaders, wanting to purge the party of them. Gandhi, whose disdain for the older Congress leaders is no secret, is quite happy to see the party collapse in state after state. He remains opposed to its alliance in Maharashtra with the Sena. And regional leaders are taking advantage of the rival Gandhi camps, ignoring "family interventions" and following their own lead.
Sonia Gandhi is also encumbered by the tunnel vision of ensuring Rahul Gandhi succeeds her again as Congress president. This leaves the Congress ever more dysfunctional. Senior leaders told me they worry even the loss of Madhya Pradesh will not reset the Gandhis' style of operation or the malaise that has spread through the party. On Twitter and elsewhere, some Congressmen derided Scindia as an opportunist who sold out for a Rajya Sabha seat, but there are many within the party who believe that he tried enough times to get a fair hearing and was left with no choice.
The leaching of political talent will burn the Congress. The only way out, say several leaders, is for the party to hold elections for every organisational post and for a elected president to be fully empowered. They believe the "family" cannot "manage" the elections and cannot be candidates but should serve as mentors and trustees. The problem is that nobody will have the guts to say this openly - and do not expect any voluntary action from the principals. Business as usual, then, for the Congress.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.