Kamal Nath as MP Chief Minister is a disappointment, at least so far

Random Reflections I Senior journalist writes on the political developments so far in Madhya Pradesh since Kamal Nath takes charge as Chief Minister. Read how Kamal Nath has been unimpressive so far

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Kamal Nath, 72, as Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh has been a disappointment. At least so far. He has been active in Parliament since 1980 when he was elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time. He has handled several ministries at the Centre admirably. It was expected that he would, as Chief Minister, provide a good government to the State by toning up the administration. But he started with a handicap. He had little choice either in picking up his ministers or allotting them portfolios. Nor has he been able to control the wayward bureaucracy or the ‘criminals in uniform’ as MP’s police force was once described by the State High Court.

After a procrastinated tussle with Guna MP Jyotiraditya Scindia (who was chairman of Campaign Committee during the poll campaign), PCC chief Kamal Nath was selected to be the leader of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP). He took oath as Chief Minister on December 17. Selection of ministers turned out to be more difficult. Scindia and former Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh ardently pressed the claims for their supporters. Several meetings were held in Bhopal and Delhi. At one stage even party president Rahul Gandhi intervened. The only point of agreement was that the first time MLAs should not be included in the Council of Ministers. Haggling continued for over a week. In sheer exasperation, Kamal Nath accepted the names and appointed 28 ministers. As Scindia and Singh were said to be insisting on cabinet rank for some of their supporters who had never been ministers in the past, Kamal Nath gave cabinet rank to all of them. Only six of them were with previous experience as ministers, while 22 had been made ministers for the first time. He distributed the departments as demanded.

Within days of formation of the cabinet, the Kamal Nath government courted controversy by invoking National Security Act (NSA) against three persons suspected of cow slaughter in Khandwa district. Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati condemned it and wondered if there was difference between BJP government of Uttar Pradesh and Congress government of Madhya Pradesh. Even Digvijaya Singh, who is the real force behind the Kamal Nath government, publicly criticised the decision to invoke NSA.

The government tried to blame it on the district administration. The fact is that the government is completely directionless. The law and order situation, which was pretty bad during the previous BJP government, has been further deteriorating after formation of the Congress government, with heinous crimes like murder, rape and molestation being reported from various parts. The kidnapping of two six-year-old twins from the school bus at gun point in Chitrakoot and recovery of their bodies 12 days later have raised questions about the efficiency and honesty of the State’s police. The father of the twins is an industrialist of the area and was said to have paid Rs 20 lakh as ransom against the demand of Rs one crore. The police had claimed to have pressed 500-strong posse to scour the area and sealed the entry points to the adjoining Uttar Pradesh. Later it emerged that the children were kept at Chitrakoot itself for two days and then taken to Uttar Pradesh and the 500-strong police force scouring the area had no clue. Or had the police cut a deal with the kidnappers for a share in the ransom?

Not only has Kamal Nath failed to give directions to the police and the bureaucracy but to his cabinet colleagues also. The ruling party faced a great embarrassment when his ministers justified in the Assembly the previous government’s ‘misdeeds’ which the Congress government had made an issue in the election campaign. A ‘colossus blunder’ was committed by Home Minister Bala Bachan when he justified police firing on farmers in Mandsaur district on June 6, 2017. The Congress had all along been agitating against the wanton police firing. Party president Rahul Gandhi visited Mandsaur on the first anniversary of police firing on farmers and declared that farmers’ loans would be waived within ten days if the Congress came to power. Mandsaur police firing on farmers had become a major part of Congress campaign for the elections.

In 2017, then BJP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had made a parikrama of river Narmada and got six crore saplings ‘planted’ on the banks of the river. Later Digvijaya Singh made a parikrama of the holy river and claimed that there was no trace of the saplings and the huge amount spent on the plantation had been misappropriated. Earlier, the Chouhan government was accused of bungling to the tune of Rs 4500 crore in organising the Ujjain Kumbh Mela. These too had been made part of the Congress election campaign against the BJP government. However, Kamal Nath’s Forest Minister and Urban Development Minister ruled out any bungling or irregularity in the Narmada plantations or Kumbh Mela management. Digvijaya Singh was furious. More so, because Urban Development Minister is none other than his own son, Jaivardhan Singh, who is a second time MLA.

Nearly a thousand transfers have been effected in the past two months. Some of the officers were transferred and retransferred within days. Kamal Nath had appointed Bhupendra Gupta, R K Miglani and Sanjay Shrivastava as Advisers to the Chief Minister and made them Officers on Special Duty (OSDs). They resigned to take up some political assignments — only a month or so later.

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