'I do not underestimate the BJP'

Print edition : December 05, 1998

Chief Minister Digvijay Singh is the architect of the Congress(I)'s remarkable victory in Madhya Pradesh. Therefore he considers himself a natural candidate for the leadership of the newly-elected Congress(I) Legislature Party. He spoke to V. Venkatesan on the morning of November 29, when the Congress(I) was heading for a majority in the Assembly. During the conversation, Digvijay Singh received a call from Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi; he told her that the victory belonged to her. Excerpts from the interview:

How do you interpret the results?

It is a total rejection of the Bharatiya Janata Party's ideology and a vote against the non-performance of the Atal Behari Vajpayee Government at the Centre. Also, the anti-incumbency sentiment against the eight-month-rule of the BJP was far greater than that against the five-year-rule of my government.

This is the first Assembly election that the Congress(I) has won under your leadership. Does it make you a leader in your own right? In 1993, Arjun Singh backed your selection as Chief Minister.

I will be happy to remain as a party worker.

Do you consider yourself a natural choice for the Chief Minister's post?

Let us see. I consider myself a natural candidate for the post of Chief Minister and not a natural choice of the Congress(I) Legislature Party.

Why did the BJP fail to win the Assembly elections in the State for the second time in a row?

I do not underestimate the BJP or any other political party. People's moods and opinions change. Let us not forget that the same people had given a big mandate to Atal Behari Vajpayee.

The Congress(I) has not done well uniformly in the State. Its performance in Vindya Pradesh is average, while in Chattisgarh it has managed to win a majority.

In the region bordering Uttar Pradesh, we have not done too well. The traditional vote-bank of the Congress(I) has been disturbed there.

Are you happy that all the tainted and troublesome Ministers in your Cabinet have lost the elections?

I am not at all happy with the defeat of any Congress(I) candidate.

Was the creation of a separate state of Chhattisgarh an election issue? Before the votes were counted, you said that the BJP was likely to have an edge because that party took the decision to create Chhattisgarh.

Yes. But the Congress(I) has always extended support to the demand for a separate Chhattisgarh state. It did not matter in the elections as both parties had an advantage. The results show that the voters were not carried away by the BJP's claims on this issue.

Would you describe the outcome as an undercurrent in favour of the Congress(I) or a Congress(I) wave?

Yes, there was an undercurrent against price rise in the urban areas. The Congress(I) has done work in the rural areas, particularly in terms of empowerment of the people and decentralisation of power.

Decentralisation, however, has been achieved at the cost of infrastructure in education. The move to appoint many "gurujis" (local teachers who will draw very low salaries) to fill vacancies in regular schools (compared to the non-formal schools set up under the Education Guarantee Scheme) has evoked widespread protests.

Well, this has come about as a result of our transferring to the local bodies the power to recruit teachers. We have no say in that.

But has it achieved the desired results? Absolutely.

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