Chhindwara: Defections, emotions emerge as key poll planks in Kamal Nath bastion - Hindustan Times

Chhindwara: Defections, emotions emerge as key poll planks in Kamal Nath bastion

Apr 10, 2024 02:27 PM IST

Sitting MP Nakul Nath has made an emotional appeal to voters by claiming that many of his close aides have “cheated him” by joining the BJP

Bhopal/Chhindwara: Chhindwara, one of the most hotly contested Lok Sabha seats in Madhya Pradesh, is a constituency the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won only once since 1951. This year though, Nakul Nath, son of veteran Congress leader Kamal Nath, is fighting hard to retain the family bastion amid a wave of defections within his party.

Veteran Congress leader Kamal Nath with his son and Chhindwara MP Nakul Nath. (Photo from X)
Veteran Congress leader Kamal Nath with his son and Chhindwara MP Nakul Nath. (Photo from X)

Among the top Congress leaders who quit to join the BJP are two former MLAs, sitting legislator and tribal leader Kamlesh Pratap Shah, Chhindwara mayor Vikram Ahakey, local municipal council chairman Ujjawal Singh Thakur and seven municipal corporators.

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Nath, who is contesting against BJP’s Vivek Bunty Sahu, has made an emotional appeal to voters by claiming that many of his close aides have “cheated him” by joining the BJP.

“The residents of Chhindwara are like our family and they are fighting election with us to defeat cheaters and liars,” he said during a public meeting.

Many in Chhindwara, however, believe that the Nath family has dented the party’s chances in the Lok Sabha elections by not clearing speculations of the father-son duo joining the BJP in early March. So much so, that Nakul Nath even removed Congress from his social media bio.

“Changing the bio was a routine thing and the speculation on me and my father leaving the Congress was created by the media. We did not make any such comment,” Nath explained.

A senior Congress leader expressed confidence of the party’s victory by saying that the core team of Kamal Nath is still with the Congress and is working to ensure his victory. “Despite defection, we have dedicated workers who can’t forget the contribution of Kamal Nath and Nakul Nath for Chhindwara,” he said.

Vijay Chaure, the Congress MLA from Sausar, said, “BJP is hatching a conspiracy against Nakul Nath, but they won’t succeed as the voters of Chhindwara are wise enough to understand it. Nobody can deny the work done by Congress here in Chhindwara.”

On ground, the Congress continues to highlight the Chhindwara development model of Kamal Nath under which, he claimed to have brought industries such as Hindustan Uniliver, Raymonds and others to the region.

“I did not care about my health and family for the development of Chhindwara. I dedicated my entire life to the development of 2,000 villages in the district. Neither is my name linked to sand mining, nor to anyone’s are witnesses to all these things. When I was the chief minister, people of other districts used to tell me that I am the CM of Chhindwara. I gave everything to Chhindwara,” Kamal Nath said while addressing a rally for his son on April 2 in Pandhurna.

On the other hand, the BJP is confident of giving the Naths a run for their money in this year’s general elections as an array of top leaders, including Madhya Pradesh chief minister Mohan Yadav and former CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan have campaigned in the constituency.

The BJP has made the personal fortunes of Kamal Nath and his son, and dynastic politics the key poll planks to woo voters. Nakul Nath has declared assets of 649.52 crore, while those in his wife Priya’s name amount to 19.20 crore. The assets of the couple amount to 668.72 crore, which is 8 crore more than 2019. In the previous elections, he declared movable and immovable assets of 680 crores.

The BJP is also trying to make Nakul Nath’s comments against Kamlesh Shah, a Congress MLA who joined the BJP on March 29, as a key poll issue claiming that he insulted tribals. Nath had said that tribals are innocent and of simple nature who cannot be sold out. “But your elected MLA (Kamlesh Shah) turned out to be traitor or sold himself. I know you are intelligent enough and will vote one-sidedly to teach him lesson,” Nath had said on April 3.

The CM said Nath was crying foul to save his seat, but in the process insulted Shah and tribals. “If he had worked hard, he should not be crying. Kamal Nath and his family has not allowed a common person of Chhindwara to contest from there,” Yadav said. Nath responded by saying that calling a traitor ‘a traitor’ is not an insult to the tribal community.

BJP candidate Sahu said, “The BJP’s family has grown bigger, and we know that this time we will win with a record vote margin. In the past 45 years, only the wealth of Kamal Nath and his family increased...they hardly did anything to improve the lives of people.”

Meanwhile, voters are in a fix.

“Kamal Nath has done a lot for locals, from developing roads and water bodies to setting up multinational companies. We can’t deny his contribution to Chhindwara but we are also impressed with promises of the BJP-led state and central governments and are upset with inflation and unemployment. It will be a tough choice for us,” Kuldeep Patel, a farmer from Pipariya Birsa village, said.

Shyam Raghuvanshi, a shopkeeper in Pandhurna town of the district, said Chhindwara has been denied development works because the MLAs and MP are of the opposition party. “This time, we will vote cleverly for development.”

Chhindwara has 1.6 million voters, and the Congress won all the seats in the 2023 assembly elections. In the past 18 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won only once in 1997 and that too lasted only for a year. Since 1980, Kamal Nath was the MP for nine terms, while his wife Alka Nath and son Nakul became MP one time each. In 2019, Nakul Nath won by a margin of just 37,536 votes.

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