The resignation of Kamal Nath as Madhya Pradesh chief minister hours before facing a trust vote on the floor of the Assembly, after delivering a scathing indictment of the BJP and his former Congress rival in the state Jyotiraditya Scindia, came as no surprise.
Outwitted in the numbers game by Scindia, who defected to the saffron camp along with 22 MLAs loyal to him, the Congress can only rue its shrinking footprint in the country. Fifteen months into his tenure as chief minister, Kamal Nath was forced to concede defeat, all his earlier protestations of having the numbers coming to nought.
The Congress now rules only three states, Punjab, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, one Union territory in Puducherry and is a junior partner in coalition governments in Maharashtra and Jharkhand. After the party won a slim majority in the Madhya Pradesh elections in 2018, Kamal Nath, who was the party chief in the state, was picked to head the government, ignoring Scindia’s chief ministerial ambitions.
The short-lived unity in the fractious Madhya Pradesh Congress that ensured victory in the Assembly election came to an end and factionalism began to rear its head again. With Scindia feeling let down and the leaderless Congress offering no hope for his political ambitions, the logical step for him was to shift to the BJP which welcomed him with open arms and promptly offered him a Rajya Sabha seat.
By ensuring the defection of MLAs loyal to him, Scindia also roundly defeated the Kamal Nath-Digvijay Singh axis, proving that even the wiliest of Congress veterans cannot match the guile and sheer determination of their saffron rivals. The hunger to rule at any cost, that the BJP has perfected to a fine art, is something the Congress has to learn, which appears highly unlikely in its present state of complete disarray.
Since the resignation of Rahul Gandhi as Congress chief after the 2019 debacle, the party has been in a state of drift and no early resolution of the crisis that grips the party is in sight. The unseating of the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh, however, also raises troubling questions on the efficacy of the anti-defection law and the scourge of horse-trading.
The Karnataka model dubbed Operation Lotus is being replicated everywhere. Scenes of MLAs being virtually hijacked, transported in buses and planes and confined to posh resorts are commonplace now. Charges of bribes running into crores of rupees are being bandied about. The Aaya Ram Gaya Ram culture of the 1970s continues in various forms despite the anti-defection law, often aided by partisan Speakers and Governors.
The restoration of morality and probity in public life is the need of the hour. The BJP which professed to be a party with a difference is now replicating what the Congress in its stronger avatar was prone to do ~ engineer defections and unseat legitimately elected governments. Sadly, nothing has changed.