Kamal Nath, the new Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, has the reputation of a go-getter who ceased to be an industrialist when he plunged into politics as a Sanjay Gandhi loyalist.
Now 72 years old, the long-time MP from Chindwara will need all his skills to deliver on the promises made by the Congress to the farmers and youths during the Assembly elections that helped them oust the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Since his appointment as the Madhya Pradesh Congress chief about seven months back, Kamal Nath fully immersed himself in preparations for the Assembly polls in the state where the party was out of power for 15 years.
The Congress won 114 seats, two seats short of majority in a tight contest, while the BJP finished a close second with 109 seats in the 230 member House.
An apparent reason for Congress President Rahul Gandhi choosing Kamal Nath over party leader Jyotiraditya Scindia as Chief Minster is the nature of verdict in the state where the party is short of legislative majority by two seats.
The party is dependent on independents to cross the half-way mark even as Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party have extended support of their three MLAs. Kamal Nath is seen as someone who can deftly manage allies and supporting parties.
He also faces the challenge of delivering the state to the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections. The BJP’s vote share in Assembly polls is slightly more than that of Congress and points to the enormity of the task ahead in future electoral battles.
A former union Minister, Kamal Nath is the senior most member of the Lok Sabha, having won nine elections and is expected to use his organisational experience to strengthen the party at the grassroots.
He has undertaken several welfare initiatives in Chhindwara, a seat he retained despite a near sweep by the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. He will be expected to emulate this at a larger level.
In the faction-ridden state unit, Kamal Nath’s seniority and acceptability across different factions are an advantage.
His appointment also signals that Congress President Rahul Gandhi is in no hurry to usher in a generational change and will take decisions according to the demands of the situation.
Kamal Nath has been a union Minister in different Congress-led governments and has also held organisational posts including being in-charge of Gujarat and Haryana in his nearly four decades of political career.
A friend of the late Sanjay Gandhi, he was first elected to Lok Sabha in 1980. He was Minister of Environment and Forests as also Textiles Minister in the P.V. Narasimha Rao government.
Kamal Nath was a key member of the two UPA governments and was Commerce and Industry Minister in 2004-09. In UPA-II, he held the portfolios of Road Transport and Highways, Urban Development and Parliamentary Affairs.
As India’s Commerce minister, he championed the cause of developing countries at WTO ministerial meetings. And everyone admits that Kamal Nath is one of those politicians who has friends across the political spectrum.