Interview with Congress General Secretary
Digvijay Singh, two-time Madhya Pradesh chief minister and senior Congress leader, has been on a self-imposed exile from electoral politics after he lost the state Assembly elections in 2003. He speaks to Kavita Chowdhury about his comeback plans on the eve of the 2014 general elections
Even as the Congress managed to get its own man in the Presidential election, the United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA’s) image lies tattered. The Trinamool Congress is still opposing Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s candidature.
You will see, everything would fall in line.
You have been on a self-imposed exile from elections. Now there are some talks of you beginning a new innings in your political career.
In 2003, when I lost the election as Madhya Pradesh chief minister, I decided to not contest any election for the next ten years. That period ends in November 2013 and I intend to begin a new innings after that. In the upcoming general elections 2014, if the (Congress) party is willing to field me, I am willing to contest.
Have you conveyed this to the party high command, the Congress president?
There is a protocol in such matters. I have conveyed this to the All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary in charge of Madhya Pradesh, B K Hariprasad.
What role do you intend to play at the Centre? Do we see yourself as a Cabinet minister in future?
I am quite happy to work in the party organisation. I have been in the government as chief minister for ten years. A Cabinet rank doesn’t attract me; I would rather work in the organisation.
You said you want to contest the Lok Sabha elections. But recently, you have been on record to say you wish to retire.
What I meant was it is time for younger people to come in at the state Assembly level. I was the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) president at the age of 38. I am no longer interested in contesting the state elections.
So, would you like your son Jaywardhan to take over?
I would like to see my son to take up the Rahogarh Assembly seat. Of course, this is if the party is willing. Since 1952, this seat has been with our family. My father Balbhadra Singh first held it. Then, from 1977 onwards, I represented it and held it till 2008 (In 2003, he had won the seat, but lost the elections). Since the last Assembly polls, my cousin Mool Singh has been representing the constituency.
Why do you want to contest the Lok Sabha polls when winning Madhya Pradesh back for the Congress could be a greater challenge?
I have not fought an election since 2008. I would like to go back to the people — every politician wants to. I have fought nine elections — eight I have won and one I have lost. It is just a matter of individual satisfaction to be among the people. As for Madhya Pradesh, I think there is enough leadership in the state to take up the challenge.
Your detractors and opponents within the party would rather wish you stayed away from the Centre’s politics.
I don’t need bouquets from my opponents. I have always believed in politics on ideological grounds — what is best for the society and the country. I believe in secular polity.
Whether it be your tough stand on Hindu terror or on Team Anna and Baba Ramdev, you have not minced words and been on the offensive. But the Congress has always shied away from taking a stand.
I think it is a difference in style, not in content. I have always believed in calling a spade a spade; I’ve always been like that. And, I’ll continue to be the same.
You’re perceived as a strategist for the party. And, now more so you have been compared to your mentor, the late Arjun Singh.
I don’t see myself as a strategist. Yes, Arjun Singh was my mentor. He was a leader in his own right. I am not in a position to reach his stature.
You seem to be one of the few Congress leaders with a mass base. Increasingly, the Congress is being seen as a party full of leaders and ministers with no mass base.
I don’t entirely disagree with what you are saying. While some (leaders) stay aloof, others are constantly in live contact with the people, such as Shinde ji, Pranabda, Kamal Nath ji and Vilas Rao Deshmukh.
How do you compare the last decade to your ten years as chief minister?
I have equally enjoyed both. As chief minister, I was confined to one state. But, as an AICC general secretary, I have been involved in the party organisation in a number of states, including Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Assam and Bihar. It has been a huge learning experience, as well. I believe this country needs inclusive politics and an inclusive economy.
The UPA-II government has been facing a barrage of criticism for mishandling the economy — even your own members at the Congress Working Committee (CWC) were critical of the government.
I am a member of the CWC and I do not agree with the views of the other members. If you compare the gross domestic product growth (provisional estimates for 2012) in the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and Chine) nations, the US and Europe with India’s, our GDP growth outstrips theirs. We are only lower than China. Our per capita income has also increased over the two terms of the UPA rule, more than under the NDA (National Democratic Alliance). The same is the case with private consumption. Prices of dal and edible oils used to be Rs 95. These have now come down to Rs 55.
What about petrol prices?
When petrol was deregulated, the prices should have been linked to the international prices of crude oil on a daily basis. That is the norm all over the world. The public sector units involved in marketing and distribution of petrol should have done this, but they failed. This has resulted in a sudden spurt in prices (Rs 7.50) rather than a gradual rise. It is a failure of the oil marketing companies (OMCs).
The government has been dictating petrol prices, despite the deregulation.
After petrol was deregulated, the OMCs should have linked the prices to international crude oil. They should not wait for the government to tell them.
What about the pressure from allies such as the Trinamool Congress who don’t want any hike in petrol prices.
When petrol prices were deregulated in June 2010, the allies did not oppose the decision then.
The Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls was a washout for the Congress. You were in charge of the state. Now with the growing bonhomie with the Samajwadi Party, the Congress seems to be in danger of losing its base in the state.
No, we shall fight the 2014 Lok Sabha elections on our own. Remember, in 2009 general elections, we won 22 seats.
But, the Congress fortunes nosedived in the 2012 Vidhan Sabha elections.
At present, in Parliament, the Samajwadi Party and the Congress have equal number of members. The Uttar Pradesh electorate has given the Samajwadi Party the mandate. We will wait for a year and see how they perform.
Do you still want to be at the helm in Uttar Pradesh as the state incharge?
It is for the Congress president to decide.
Recently, your former colleague and close friend from Gujarat, Sanjay Joshi, was unceremoniously removed from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ...