New Delhi, Dec. 7: Minutes after last month's swearing-in ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan, Kamal Nath revealed: "The Prime Minister requested me to become parliamentary affairs minister. When I showed my reluctance, he said 'who else can I fall back on in these difficult times?' Then I said 'OK, I will manage'."
He has managed.
In the Congress, nobody is surprised. A leader who has seen Kamal Nath from close quarters for decades, told The Telegraph: "This seemingly difficult vote was an easy assignment for him given his abilities and networking skills. We all knew he would deliver."
Most Congress leaders admit that Nath, possibly the most under-utilised political manager in the party, was brought into the mainstream just in time.
AIADMK member V. Maitreyan, who moved the motion against FDI in the Rajya Sabha, rubbed it in: "Commerce minister Anand Sharma has lost but Kamal Nath has won."
Although the understated role of Ahmed Patel, Sonia Gandhi's political secretary, cannot be undermined, Nath's sense of involvement and manipulative skills are being widely praised in the party. The Prime Minister, too, personally talked to both Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati several times.
Nath, 66, is too seasoned a politician to brag about personal success and termed the FDI vote victory a "rejection of BJP's politics."
He used the BJP factor to convince the Samajwadi Party and the BSP that siding with the NDA was not in their interest even in terms of larger electoral calculations.
Asked about the purported "fear of the CBI" that apparently clinched the deal with the BSP, Nath said: "When Mayawati opposed the Congress on the nuclear deal and took the BJP line on the no-confidence motion, why did the CBI factor not come into play? It is the habit of the BJP to raise the CBI bogey all the time."
Although Nath had won over the Samajwadis and the BSP much before the vote in the Lok Sabha, he used BJP leader Sushma Swaraj's attack on Mayawati and her hypocritical stand on secularism to "upgrade" the deal. He persuaded Mayawati to vote for the government ' not simply abstain ' to teach the BJP a lesson for maligning her by raising the CBI bogey.
The vote has emboldened the government to take greater risks in the Rajya Sabha.
After the victory, Nath declared: "The reforms are back on track now.The BJP was trying to do politics by using FDI as a front. Political parties saw through this game. We are certainly going to bring in more bills now and will talk to the BJP. I hope they co-operate."
This is the first major test Nath has cleared since his downgrading in earlier reshuffles. He was first removed as commerce minister and then shifted to urban development from the more important surface transport ministry.
However, his subsequent inclusion in the cabinet committee on political affairs was evidence that he had regained Sonia's confidence and Manmohan's trust.
The eight-term Lok Sabha MP from Madhya Pradesh, who was born in Uttar Pradesh and educated in Bengal, is a successful industrialist who also runs a business management school. He went to Doon School and was a close friend of Sanjay Gandhi.
Party leaders are envious of the way he manages his Chhindwara constituency ' he keeps a dedicated team to look after his voters and even his Delhi home remains crowded all the time with people seeking and getting all kinds of assistance.
"His constituency is Kamal Nath's island," a Madhya Pradesh politician said.