Monday, 30th October 2017

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Son Nakul steps into Kamal Nath's shoes

Nakul will contest the Chhindwara Lok Sabha seat

By Pheroze L. Vincent in Chhindwara
  • Published 29.04.19, 7:26 AM
  • Updated 29.04.19, 7:26 AM
  • 3 mins read
Nakul Nath campaigns in Chhindwara, Madhya Pradesh, on Friday. Picture by Rajesh Mishra

Nakul Nath looks much younger than his 44 years. The Calcutta-born eldest son of Congress chief minister Kamal Nath has stepped into his father’s shoes to contest the Chhindwara Lok Sabha seat.

It’s a constituency the Congress has held since Independence, except for a year when former BJP chief minister Sunder Lal Patwa won it in a by-election in 1997. Kamal Nath represented the seat since 1998 till he became chief minister last December.

Even during the Narendra Modi wave of 2014 that swept 27 of the state’s 29 seats, Chhindwara had held out along with Guna, the constituency of Congress MP Jyotiraditya Scindia.

Local BJP politicians often accuse their national leadership of a secret understanding with the elder Nath. However, it’s clear that Kamal Nath’s politics of patronage and performance, called the “Chhindwara model of development” here, continues to thrive.

Nath Jr began his day late on Friday, the penultimate day of campaigning. After a few interviews at the chief minister’s bungalow in the Shikarpur suburb, he left in an SUV wearing a white shirt, blue jeans and a tricolour scarf printed with the Congress symbol.

Nakul has promised the voters he would switch to the Congress’s regulation khadi once he wins, and his father has asked the people to tear his clothes off if he doesn’t perform. But Nakul’s biggest challenge is not to win the seat but to convince Congress workers that the party has a chance of returning to power at the Centre.

“People in Madhya Pradesh were (captives to) the BJP’s day dream of false promises for 15 years,” he told The Telegraph on the campaign trail.

“After coming to power, my father has waived the loans of 22 lakh farmers, and 28 lakh others will be able to claim the waiver after the elections. So far, 83 election promises have been fulfilled. Of (Prime Minister) Modi’s tall promises of Digital India and Skill India, which one has taken off?”

A group of shopkeepers waiting to welcome Nakul at Fawara Chowk here on Thursday had said they were indebted to the chief minister for developing the local market but were unsure if his party could win at the national level.

“Of course we are backing both Kamal Nathji (who is contesting an Assembly by-election) and Nakul. He is, after all, Kamal Nath’s son and he speaks well too,” a trader and Congress supporter, Fardeen Raza, said.

“Our leaders have told us that in a hung Parliament, the Congress will lead a coalition government. We have just come to power and the benefits of our government’s schemes have not reached everyone before these elections. Modi ka jalwa abhi bhi hai (Modi retains his sheen). If other parties had united with us to defeat him, we would have got a clear majority.”

While Nakul has campaigned for his father in the last five Lok Sabha polls, he has spent most of his time steering the family’s thriving business conglomerate. It has made him the richest candidate in the fourth phase of elections, scheduled for April 29, with assets of more than Rs 600 crore.

“I felt I had had enough of private life and wanted to serve the people of Chhindwara, which I am doing,” he said.

“I have a family-like relationship with the people here and thought that since my father wouldn’t be able to devote much time to Chhindwara (after becoming chief minister), now is the time for me to jump in.”

Born at Woodlands Nursing Home (now Hospital) in Calcutta’s Alipore locality, Nakul attended Doon School, obtained a management degree from Boston, and worked in Calcutta and Delhi before moving here. His wife and two sons are also here, currently, with his brother Bakul, who is expected to shoulder some of Nakul’s roles in the family businesses if the older brother wins.

“Unemployment is the biggest problem here, and if I get elected my main task would be to generate jobs and attract investments and factories, for which Chhindwara now has the perfect environment and infrastructure,” Nakul said.

Addressing students at a coaching centre, he faced a demand: youth from the state should get priority in jobs.

“You may remember that when Kamal Nathji became chief minister, a controversy was created (over his purported remarks that) we won’t allow people from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and other states to come here and support the people of Madhya Pradesh,” he replied, drawing cheers. “Let the Lok Sabha elections get over…. I understand you loud and clear.”

One of the first steps of the new Congress government here was to propose an incentives scheme for industries that hire 70 per cent of their workforce from the state.