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Newsmaker: Kamal Nath

Lightly, does it

Aditi Phadnis  |  New Delhi 

Kamal Nath
Kamal Nath,
Commerce Minister

Although the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has quickly withdrawn its accolades to Kamal Nath for bargaining on India's behalf in the latest negotiating round at the WTO in Geneva, the commerce minister's quick grasp of issues that are both complex and serious, is a tribute to him.

Just back from Geneva after negotiating the WTO framework agreement on agriculture, the minister now permanently sports a winner's smile.

Though trade analysts are not so optimistic, Nath says the agreement reached at Geneva after tough negotiations has ensured that the country's concerns over food security, livelihood security and rural development will be more than adequately addressed.

Nath has never been guilty of hiding his light behind a bushel, and evidently is best suited for the commerce ministry, where his skills at repartee are being widely appreciated.

The gum-chewing minister is adept at taking himself "" and others "" lightly. All these are useful qualities in a ministry that radiates tension and pressure at the best of times.

Having won from Chhindwara seven times and having successfully fielded his wife in his stead once, Nath is understandably confident about his prowess at politics, winning elections and running organisations.

Soon after the 1999 general elections, when the Congress lost a round of Assembly elections, Nath issued a statement that in the current context can only be blasphemy.

He requested party president Sonia Gandhi to continue as the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) chairman because becoming leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha could be too much of a strain on her.

"Sonia Gandhi may not have sufficient time for all her responsibilities and should therefore avoid being the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. She can continue as the CPP chairperson and thereby influence policies.

However, the decision is entirely hers."

Gandhi took time to react to this, but his removal as party general secretary in charge of Delhi, after he had ruled supreme in the Delhi municipal elections, giving 75-80 out of 134 tickets to known detractors of Sheila Dikshit, should have been no shock to anyone.

Nath also took on former mentor Arjun Singh after the Congress' rout in the Assembly elections in Gujarat (he was general secretary in charge of Gujarat). At the post mortem afterwards, he openly challenged Singh's contention that promoting soft Hindutva does not pay, by asking why no one had said a word when a known Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader, Shankarsinh Vaghela, was appointed PCC chief.

Never at a loss for words when being combative, Nath owes this to his early training in politics. Having studied at Doon School, he came to the Congress via student politics and rose to prominence when it was fashionable to be a stormtrooper led by Sanjay Gandhi.

He contested and won the Lok Sabha election in 1980 and has been defeated just once since. He was minister for environment and forests and textiles during the prime ministership of PV Narasimha Rao and was a comrade in arms of Madhya Pradesh Digvijay Singh, although relations between the two have been somewhat cool lately.

First Published: Sat, August 07 2004. 00:00 IST