Kamal Nath removed as Madhya Pradesh Congress chief; Charan Das Mahant chosen CLP leader in Chhattisgarh

Congress picks Jitu Patwari, an OBC leader, to head the party in Madhya Pradesh; while in Chhattisgarh, Deepak Baij to continue as PCC chief 

December 16, 2023 10:27 pm | Updated December 17, 2023 09:21 am IST - Bhopal/Raipur

Jitu Patwari (left), the new M.P. Congress chief and Charan Das Mahant, the new Chhattisgarh Congress Legislature Party leader.

Jitu Patwari (left), the new M.P. Congress chief and Charan Das Mahant, the new Chhattisgarh Congress Legislature Party leader.

Days after the debacle in the Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh Assembly elections, All India Congress Committee (AICC) president Mallikarjun Kharge on December 16 replaced Kamal Nath with Jitu Patwari as the M.P. Congress chief and named former Speaker Charan Das Mahant as the leader of the legislature party in Chhattisgarh instead of former Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel.

Deepak Baij will continue as the PCC chief in Chhattisgarh, an AICC announcement said.

The change of leadership in these States is being seen as enforcing a system of accountability as the Congress was considered a favourite to win Madhya Pradesh and expected to repeat in Chhattisgarh.

In Madhya Pradesh, MLA Umang Singhar has been appointed the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader in the Assembly, while MLA Hemant Katare will be the deputy leader.

“The party appreciates the contributions of outgoing PCC president, Shri Kamal Nath,” a letter by AICC general secretary K.C. Venugopal read..

Mr. Patwari, a former Minister in the 15-month Kamal Nath government from 2018 to 2020, has been entrusted with heading the State unit despite his defeat in the recent election from the Rau Assembly constituency in Indore district of Malwa-Nimar region, from where the new MP Chief Minister Mohan Yadav hails from.

Mr. Patwari has been holding the post of working president at the MPCC from 2018.

Mr. Patwari, a young OBC leader, appears to be the Congress’s attempt to counter the BJP’s OBC consolidation in the polls which it has tried to solidify after picking Mr. Yadav as the Chief Minister. OBCs alone form nearly 52% of the State’s total population.

Last week, leaders in the M.P. Congress had claimed that Mr. Nath had been asked to continue as the State unit chief until the 2024 Lok Sabha election.

After a meeting between Mr. Nath, Mr. Kharge and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in Delhi to review the party’s poll performance in the State, Mr. Nath’s media adviser Peeyush Babele reposted a news item, which claimed that Mr. Nath had been asked to continue till the Lok Sabha election. However, there was no official confirmation at that time.

Following Saturday’s announcement, Mr. Nath took to X to congratulate Mr. Patwari, Mr. Singhar and Mr. Katare.

“Hearty congratulations to Shri Jitu Patwari on being nominated as the president of Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee, Shri Umang Singhar on being nominated as the leader of Congress Legislative Party and Shri Hemant Katare on being nominated as the Deputy Leader,” he wrote.

Mr. Mahant has held the responsibility of the Chhattisgarh Congress president six times in the past, including his stints as the working and acting president, besides being a Minister in the Ajit Jogi-led first Congress government and before that, in undivided M.P. He was among the contenders for the top post after the election win of 2018 before it went to Mr. Baghel. Mr. Mahant was then chosen as the Speaker of the Chhattisgarh Assembly.

In an election in which nine Ministers of the erstwhile Bhupesh Baghel Cabinet and PCC president Deepak Baij lost, he was among the two senior-most leaders – the other being Mr. Baghel himself – to win. He is an OBC leader from the Bilaspur region and comes without any baggage of allegations the previous government faced. What works against him is the relative lack of aggression, say party sources.

Since the defeat, there have been constant murmurs of discontent expressed by various Congress leaders in Chhattisgarh. The party’s State unit sacked two former MLAs for pointing fingers at senior leaders, and issued a show-cause notice to senior leader and former Minister Jaisingh Agrawal for his remarks targeting the party over its alleged failure to appear united during the election campaign.

After M.P. and Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan is the third State where the Congress faced a defeat and will have to decide its future course of action over the leadership issue.

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