Bhopal: When Kamal Nath was named the Congress chief in Madhya Pradesh in April ahead of the Assembly polls, many in the party recalled that former prime minister Indira Gandhi described him as her "third son" who helped her take on the Morarji Desai-led regime in 1979.
Thirty-nine years later, the senior-most member in the 16th Lok Sabha donned the battle gear to help Indira Gandhi's grandson and Congress president Rahul Gandhi make huge gains for the opposition party in a state where BJP's Shivraj Singh Chouhan is the longest-serving chief minister of Madhya Pradesh and at the helm since 2003.
The Congress emerged as the single largest party with 114 seats in the 230-member state Assembly and staked claim to power.
The Congress' tally in the outgoing house was only 58. The BJP, which had 165 MLAs, won 109 seats in a see-saw battle for a majority which is 116.
Along with Jyotiraditya Scindia, Nath, 72, was tasked with reviving the fortunes of the opposition Congress in Madhya Pradesh, where the party has been out of power since 2003 and had to face a BJP onslaught in the final days of electioneering.
The BJP attacked Nath after an audio-video clip went viral in which he was heard asking clerics to ensure 90 per cent voting in the state's Muslim-dominated areas to ensure a Congress victory.
Nath is a nine-time Lok Sabha MP from Chhindwara. People in Chindwara refer to the district as an 'oasis' in the dirt. There are also references like 'keechad mein kamal'.
Indira Gandhi once introduced Nath in Chhindwara, saying, "This is my third son. Please vote for him," recalled senior journalist Sunil Shrivastava, who covered that election meeting.
When Nath was chosen by Rahul Gandhi as the state Congress chief in April over Jyotiraditya Scindia, the Lok Sabha member from Guna and scion of the erstwhile Gwalior dynasty, the MP Congress unit was riddled with factionalism.
Nath made efforts to bring together senior party leaders - former MP chief minister Digvijay Singh, Scindia and Suresh Pachouri - well aware that groupism may have had a role in keeping the party out of power for the last 15 years.
He ensured that regional satraps got representation in the allotment of tickets. The Congress also made judicious use of the energetic Scindia to pull voters towards the party by appointing him the state campaign committee chief.
After the ticket distribution, the state Congress roped in Digvijay Singh to quell dissent in the party. The state Congress was able to withdraw most of its rebels from the election arena, an area in which the BJP did not fare well.
As electioneering started, Nath trained his guns on the BJP, knowing that Chouhan's popularity, built over schemes for every section of society, needed to be countered.
Under Nath's leadership, the state Congress focused its campaign on "unfulfilled" promises of Chouhan, whom the party dubbed as 'ghoshnaveer' (a man of hollow promises), a term that sparked street debates over the fate of schemes announced by Chouhan.
As the electioneering gained momentum, the state Congress launched the slogan "Waqt hai badlav ka" (time for change has come) to pull voters towards the party.
Born in Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh to businessman father Mahendra Nath and mother Leela, Nath is an alumnus of the prestigious Doon School in Dehradun in Uttarakhand. He did his graduation from St Xavier's college, Kolkata, before taking a plunge into politics.