Chhindwara, March 30: Old warhorse Kamal Nath is focusing on rural areas in the tribal-dominated Chhindwara parliamentary constituency that has seen him through to the Lok Sabha eight times since 1980.
Confident and unabashed, Nath’s campaign revolves around himself. In Chhindwara town, there are no posters, banners and hoardings that feature Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi.
Local residents say Nath, sensing the anti-UPA mood, is consciously avoiding the government’s performance as an issue for the April 10 contest.
However, in the rural parts of Chhindwara, Nath flaunts his proximity to the Nehru-Gandhi family and talks about cash subsidy, the rural job scheme (MGNREGA) and other welfare measures.
Nath has reasons to be worried. In the recently held state elections in Madhya Pradesh, the Congress lost in four of the seven Assembly segments that fall under the Chhindwara parliamentary seat.
Even in Shikarpur, where Nath has a sprawling farmhouse with a helipad, the Congress had trailed by 8,416 votes.
The BJP has pitted former state minister Choudhury Chandrabhan Singh, the local MLA. Chandrabhan won the Chhindwara Assembly seat by a margin of 24,778 votes, defeating Deepak Saxena, a close confidant of Nath.
Chandrabhan is counting on Narendra Modi’s popularity. “Now people are questioning Kamal Nath about his long absence from the constituency. He (Nath) has failed to do anything concrete for the area. I can see the Modi wave all over the state and this time people are going to vote for change and betterment of the area,” Chandrabhan says.
Asked about the possibility of a setback, Nath appears confident. “Here I am an issue. People relate to development with me. Voters have reposed faith in me time and again and 2014 is not going to be any different,” he says.
Nath is in charge of parliamentary affairs and urban development in the Manmohan Singh cabinet.
Nath’s wife Alka and son Nakul are campaigning for him. Nakul has taken charge of mobilising the youth and is often seeing sipping tea with voters in Chhindwara town. “Here nobody relates tea with any chai-wallah,” he winks.
Alka was Chhindwara MP in 1996-97 when Nath had fielded her after his name had figured in the Jain hawala case. Relying on her experience, Alka holds street-corner meetings seeking votes for Nath.
The Aam Aadmi Party is also in the fray. AAP nominee Mahesh Madhavlal Dubey thinks the tide would turn in his favour when Arvind Kejriwal visits Chhindwara on April 4. “There is a lot of interest and curiosity about the AAP and Nath may be in for a surprise,” says Dubey.
But Nath is almost dismissive about the AAP. “It is one political party that will go down in history losing itself so fast due to its own undoing. Kejriwal’s abrupt exit from Delhi has raised a number of issues and eroded whatever credibility it (the AAP) had generated in Delhi,” he says.
Nath owns assets worth over Rs 187 crore.