In Big OBC Outreach, Jitu Patwari Is New Madhya Pradesh Congress Chief

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In Big OBC Outreach, Jitu Patwari Is New Madhya Pradesh Congress Chief

Mr Patwari lost from the Sau Assembly constituency by over 35,000 votes.

New Delhi:

Days after its drubbing in the Madhya Pradesh elections, the Congress has replaced senior leader and former chief minister Kamal Nath as the state unit chief with other backward class (OBC) leader Jitu Patwari. 

OBCs account for over 50% of voters in Madhya Pradesh and the selection of Mr Patwari – who lost to a BJP candidate from the Sau Assembly seat with a margin of over 35,000 votes – is being seen as the party’s attempt to make a fresh start in the crucial heartland state ahead of the all-important Lok Sabha elections, which are less than four months away. 

After Mr Patwari’s appointment, speculation is rife about the political future of Kamal Nath, who is now 77 years old and has been a Union Cabinet minister, nine-time Lok Sabha MP and the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh for about 15 months. He was the president of the Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee for over five years and had to resign as chief minister in 2020 after the rebellion by senior leader Jyotiraditya Scindia. 

In this year’s elections, which were held on November 17, the Congress had managed to secure only 66 seats in the 230-member Assembly and the BJP had won 163 despite being in power in Madhya Pradesh for nearly two decades. 

Despite the loss in Chhattisgarh, however, the Congress has decided to retain Deepak Baij as the state unit chief.

Caste Math

In Madhya Pradesh the party has also appointed Umang Singhar as the Congress Legislative Party leader, which means that he will be the Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, and has picked Hemant Katare as the deputy leader.

The picks are significant as, apart from effecting a generational change, they also reflect the Congress’ attempt at caste balancing. Kamal Nath is a Brahmin leader and has now been replaced with an OBC leader in Jitu Patwari. Umang Singhar is a tribal and the nephew of late Jamuna Devi, who was a former deputy chief minister and represented the state both in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. 

The naming of Hemant Katare may have been done with an eye on retaining the votes of the Brahmin community after replacing Kamal Nath. Katare was seen as a “giant killer” after defeating Madhya Pradesh cooperatives minister Arvind Singh Bhadoria of the BJP by over 69,000 votes.

Announcing the appointments, a Congress statement said, “The Congress president has appointed Shri Jitu Patwari as the president of Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee, with immediate effect.”

“The party appreciates the contributions of outgoing PCC president, Shri Kamal Nath,” it added.

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