AS THE BJP latched on to a video where Kamal Nath seemed to be taking a swipe at Digvijaya Singh, the two Congress stalwarts in Madhya Pradesh came together on Tuesday to nip the speculation in the bud.
With the Congress’s hopes resting on state president Kamal Nath and ex-chief minister Digvijaya pulling their weight together, the two made light of the video at a press conference here, where the party released its manifesto.
The video featured supporters of former Kolaras BJP MLA-turned-Congress leader Virendra Raghuvanshi, angry over Raghuvanshi not getting a ticket. When they confronted Kamal Nath over this on Monday night in Bhopal, he was caught on video saying that Digvijaya was handling ticket distribution and that “they should tear his as well as his son (Jaivardhan Singh’s) clothes” to vent their anger. “Don’t tell him (Digvijaya) I said this,” Kamal Nath says in the video.
The BJP said the video indicated the tension within the Congress, which has so far been more fleet-footed than its rival this election. CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan also commented, saying: “This is the real face of the Congress. A former CM is saying this about another former CM.”
What fanned the rumours was Digvijaya’s cryptic post on X: “When a family grows large, there is both collective happiness and collective conflict. Wisdom says that elders should patiently find a solution.”
On Tuesday, with Digvijaya sitting beside him on the dais for the manifesto launch, Kamal Nath said he first wanted to clear the air over the video. Having just shared a joke with Digvijaya, which had the two chortling, Kamal Nath said: “Before the press conference, you asked me a question regarding tearing of Digvijaya Singh’s clothes. In my reply, I said that if he doesn’t listen to you, then you can also tear his clothes.”
कमल नाथ जी से मेरे पारिवारिक रिश्ता १९८० से है। हमारे बीच में कई बार कई मुद्दों पर मतभेद रहे है। दो मित्रों में मतभेद होना स्वाभाविक ही है लेकिन मनभेद नहीं रहे। एमपी कांग्रेस के घोषणा पत्र के समय मेरे और कमल नाथ जी के बीच का मज़ाक़िया संवाद। अवश्य सुनिए।@INCIndia pic.twitter.com/vpc7454N45
— digvijaya singh (@digvijaya_28) October 17, 2023
Digvijaya butted in on cue, saying that it is the PCC president whose signature is on the nomination form. “So whose clothes should be torn, tell me?” he asked, with all Congress leaders present on the stage bursting out in laughter.
Kamal Nath went on to say that his relationship with Digvijaya was not political, and that his colleague held “the power of attorney” to take abuse on his behalf. “It is a relationship of laughs and jokes, of love… It is an old relationship, a family relationship,” the state Congress chief said.
Digvijaya said they were like “Shankarji (Lord Shiva), whose job is to drink poison”. “So we will drink it (the abuses).”
After the press conference, Digvijaya posted about his “family relationship” with Kamal Nath, which “goes back to 1980”. “There have been differences of opinion… it is natural for two friends to have differences of opinion. But there is no discord.”
The tough love on display at the Congress press conference would not have been unfamiliar to people in the state. The two veterans, both loyalists of the Gandhi family, have both had each other’s back at various times, including when Digvijaya served as CM in the early 1990s.
For a long time, they were also aligned against their common enemy, Jyotiraditya Scindia. During the 2018 Assembly elections too, Digvijaya and Kamal Nath are said to have ganged up to sideline Scindia, ensuring that Kamal Nath was picked as CM ahead of the Gwalior royal family scion.
A Congress leader acknowledged the role of Digvijaya, who belongs to the rival Raghogarh erstwhile royal family, in keeping Scindia out.
The bad blood eventually led to Scindia’s exit from the Congress to the BJP, and the collapse of the Kamal Nath government. However, he and Digvijaya stuck together.
Congress leaders say the two are a foil to each other given how different they are. “Kamal Nath keeps himself mostly confined to the Mahakoshal region, which includes his home base Chhindwara, while Digvijaya, a two-time CM, is known for his extensive tours of the state and mass contact with the organisation,” says a Congress leader.
A source close to Digvijaya says: “Kamal Nath is not a mass leader, and usually travels on private planes and helicopters. Digvijaya is a grassroots leader. The two need each other. Kamal Nath is the resources man for the Congress, Digvijaya the coordinator.”
There was apparently some trouble in this happy picture during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, when Digvijaya fought from the high-profile Bhopal seat against controversial BJP leader Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, and lost by a huge margin. Kamal Nath was believed to have put Digvijaya up to the task.
However, any lingering rancour over this has not been evident since the countdown began to the Assembly polls.
Congress sources dismissed BJP claims of differences between the two. They pointed out that Digvijaya had been a big part of the party’s ticket distribution process in the state since 1985, when he was the Madhya Pradesh Congress president. This time too, with the party reportedly besieged with applications, he has been at the forefront troubleshooting.
A source close to Digvijaya said he had very little to be angry about. “He is in-charge of the ticket distribution. Four of his family members, including his son, brother and two nephews, have got tickets. All his close supporters have got tickets.”
Union minister Prahlad Patel, who has been fielded by the BJP from Narsinghpur Assembly seat, said the Congress was trying to cover up the tension between Kamal Nath and Digvijaya. “The manifesto was released so that they can make the resignations following the Congress list disappear,” he said.