NEW DELHI: Congress veteran Digvijaya Singh has opened a new dimension to the leadership issue in Madhya Pradesh (MP) where the Congress is hopeful of coming back to power after 15 years.
In an exclusive interview with this paper, Singh remarked “there are others also” when asked whether he would back state unit chief Kamal Nath or campaign chief Jyotiraditya Scindia as the party’s chief minister (CM) in case the Congress was voted to power.
Singh, Nath and Scindia have been the three most influential leaders in MP Congress for long. As Singh, a two-time chief minister has ruled himself out of the race for the CM’s chair the party high command would have to choose between Nath or Scindia, said party sources. However, they acknowledged that Singh suggesting a new face might make that decision tougher for the central leadership. Congress chief Rahul Gandhi wanted Scindia to head the state unit but had to settle for veteran Kamal Nath to keep the flock together. Singh had then publicly supported Nath’s candidature as state unit chief over that of Scindia, who wanted the party to declare the CM face before the polls.
Political observer Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay said Singh’s remark showed he is a “smart and clever” politician who has kept the leadership issue open while not throwing his hat in the ring directly.
“Having political ambition is not wrong. Digvijaya is a mass leader and has considerable sway over the organization,” Mukhopadhyay said, adding that “Singh may also prop up someone close to him as a CM probable.”
The Congress will win the upcoming Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections due to widespread anger against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), corruption at the grassroots in the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government and the ticket distribution by his party, veteran leader Digvijaya Singh told Amit Agnihotri in an exclusive interview.
You are a two-term Madhya Pradesh chief minister, and there has been a lot of speculation that you may again be a contender for the top post if the Congress comes to power in the state.
There is no question of my being the chief minister. I am out of question, out of recognition. When I say something, I mean it.
In that case, who will get to wear the crown — Congress state unit chief Kamal Nath or campaign chief Jyotiraditya Scindia?
Well, there are others also. The preference will be with the elected representatives; I will not be a voter. The new MLAs will elect their leader. Within 24 hours of the results, we will have a chief minister.
The Congress seems to very bullish on the coming polls. How do you rate the party’s prospects?
By and large, the way tickets have gone, I can tell you we are winning. Ticket distribution is good in rural areas but urban areas are not our stronghold. In the tribal areas, we are going to be much ahead of the BJP. The vote share difference in urban areas is too much, but we will give a good fight. In 2013, urban areas were a washout for us, but not this time. We will give them a good fight.
So what, in your opinion, is going in the Congress party’s favour this time?
The fact is that anger against the BJP is helping us. Second, our campaign is more coordinated than the last time and that includes the workers. We just need to control the rebel candidates.
Is corruption a big issue in the November 28 polls?
Corruption is hitting the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government 100 per cent. There is a lot of corruption at the grassroots level. All District Collectors and Superintendents of Police have to pay a monthly sum to the leadership. The cash-for-jobs Vyapam scam, too, is a big issue. I have been raising it in the past in the state and in Delhi. Then, there is widespread farm crisis and issues affecting the small traders due to faulty GST.
But is the MP Congress fighting the BJP unitedly?
We are one.
How would you respond to recent reports related to heated exchanges between you and Scindia over ticket distribution?
That is absolutely rubbish. There was no argument with Scindia during the central election committee meeting. Around 10-20 per cent tickets do go wrong. We have no thermometer for that. I am totally satisfied with the candidates.
Over the past years, Congress has been battling a fund crunch during state polls. Is that still a problem?
We are not a party of big people but a party of weaker sections. But this is not something we can’t handle.
Your religious ‘Narmada Yatra’ created a lot of buzz. Is that helping the Congress?
I never treated it as a political gimmick. It was my personal commitment. But I can tell you one thing. During the Narmada Yatra, I covered around 104 Assembly constituencies, revived old contacts that I had lost over the past 15 years. Starting May-end till date, the coordination panel, headed by me, covered 43 of the 52 districts and 193 Assembly segments where I had one-on-one discussions with around 2,000 elected representatives. I also interacted with over 1.5 lakh workers who whispered in my ears what they want. I have the feel of people on the ground for which parties spend crores getting surveys done. Just mention an Assembly seat and I can tell you who is first, second and third there.
Any reflections on why the Congress could not win the past polls?
I was out of circulation in the 2008 and 2013 polls. This time, I am very much in. The point is, our preparation was not what it should have been in 2008 and 2013. At the same time, we are extremely weak on organisation as compared to the BJP, but strong on candidates. We have better candidates.
But what about ‘Project Shakti’ started by Rahul Gandhi to boost booth-level teams?
It is a good effort. But see what has happened in the BJP. One can become a member through a missed call. Project Shakti has not been processed to check whether people calling are from the BJP or the Congress.
Would the MP polls have an impact on the 2019 elections?
I don’t link the two; state and national polls are quite different. For instance, in 1998 the Congress lost in the Parliament polls. But six months later, we won many states. So, voters behave differently.