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Digvijaya Singh: ‘The very essence of democracy is at stake’

The veteran Congress leader says Prime Minister Modi is tightlipped on real issues like inflation, unemployment, and the crisis in Manipur.

Published : May 04, 2024 20:52 IST - 6 MINS READ

Senior Congress leader and Rajgarh Lok Sabha candidate Digvijaya Singh addressing a press conference at the Madhya Pradesh Congress headquarters in Bhopal on March 22, 2024.

Senior Congress leader and Rajgarh Lok Sabha candidate Digvijaya Singh addressing a press conference at the Madhya Pradesh Congress headquarters in Bhopal on March 22, 2024. | Photo Credit: FARUQUI A.M.

Congress leader Digvijaya Singh’s tenure as Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister is used by the BJP to tell voters how the State lagged behind in development. The BJP calls him “Mr Bantadhar”. The two-term Chief Minister from 1993 to 2003, Singh, after a crushing defeat at the hands of the BJP in the 2003 Assembly election, vowed not to contest any election for 10 years. Later, he was sent to the Rajya Sabha.

This time, he is contesting from his past family stronghold, the Rajgarh seat, after a gap of 31 years and is contesting a direct election here after a gap of 21 years. The odds are stacked against Singh, who is the favourite punching bag of the RSS for his alleged “pro-Muslim” leaning. He faces Rodmal Nagar, a two-term Lok Sabha MP from the BJP, who is well-rooted in the RSS. Rajgarh is a stronghold of the RSS now, and Singh is cautious not to get caught in any polarising dispute. Singh says Rajgarh remained where he had left it in 1994.

Frontline caught up with him at one of his election rallies in the Raghogarh area, and in a freewheeling chat, Singh spoke about his election, the prospects of the Congress in Madhya Pradesh and the country as a whole, and the political discourse of the country. Excerpts:

Do you find this election to be different when you meet people than what you noticed in 2014 and 2019?

There is a very noticeable difference. Inflation has gone up tremendously. People are losing money. The savings rates have come down. Unemployment has gone up, and there is discontent everywhere. The government of India is acting vindictively, so strongly that they are arresting elected Chief Ministers without any iota of proof. This has never happened in the country, and the way they are being treated is there for all to see. Bail is a right, but they are not being given their rights also. There are people who have been in jail for over four and a half years. They must be given bail. What is the logic? This [2024] election is a very crucial election, where the very essence of democracy is at stake.

In a freewheeling chat, Digvijaya Singh spoke about his election, the prospects of the Congress in Madhya Pradesh and the country as a whole, and the political discourse of the country. | Video Credit: Interview by Anand Mishra; Camera by Faizan Ali; Editing by Samson Ronald K.

We hear of incidents like what happened in Indore—of the Congress candidate refusing to contest, withdrawing from the contest at the last moment. What’s happening to the Congress?

They are not refusing. They are being pressurised, threatened by lodging false FIRs against them, taking action against them, threatening to send them to jail. After all, this is not politics. What is happening in Vietnam and Russia is going to happen in India now.

But do you see some yearning for change as you visit the constituency and meet people?

Absolutely. People are fed up with the falsehoods spread by Narendra Modi. He is speaking about everything in the world except the basic issues. Inflation is killing people. Savings have gone down. You can’t survive only by taking loans.

Also Read | Will too many Congress defectors spoil the broth for BJP in Madhya Pradesh?

BJP leaders in their rallies talk about the Ram Mandir and the abolition of Article 370. Do you find them resonating on the ground?

I am not going to get into that because that is the BJP’s agenda. We want the Prime Minister to talk about inflation. We want the Prime Minister to talk about unemployment; we want the Prime Minister to talk about Ladakh and Manipur, internal security. We want the Prime Minister to talk on these issues, but he is not prepared.

You spoke about the BJP agenda. But what is the Congress’ agenda?

The Congress agenda is very concise. Five guarantees. Each guarantee with five sub-guarantees. A guarantee to farmers, labour, women, and youth, and a guarantee for sort of taking everyone along, giving equal opportunities to all.

In 2018, the Congress came back to power in Madhya Pradesh after a gap of 15 years, but you lost your government just a little over one year afterward. Why did this happen?

Because those who were elected on the Congress ticket against the BJP sort of ditched the Congress. And the rumours are that huge sums of money were transferred to these people.

“What is the intent of ‘400 paar’? This is what the BJP leaders have said, that they want ‘400 paar’ to change the Constitution.”

But in the 2023 Assembly election, this had an impact on your performance in the Gwalior-Chambal region. Do you see this also impacting the performance of the Congress in the Lok Sabha seats in the region?

If you talk about 2023, something went wrong in the whole election. In the ballot paper counting, the Congress led in 199 of the 230 seats. That reflected the people’s mood, and in the EVM, we lost 166 seats. There is something wrong there.

Your party is going the whole hog against the Centre on the electoral bond scheme.

It is one of the biggest scams, as people have largely said. An example is that people have been threatened. People have not only been threatened. False cases have been registered against them; they have been sent to jail. Now just see what is happening to Arvind Kejriwal. What is happening to Hemant Soren. There is no money trail, and they have been arrested.

Then why are they not getting bail?

This is for you to take your own assessment, but the point is, why is the judiciary not giving them bail? When the Supreme Court has already said a number of times that bail is an individual’s right, why are they not getting bail?

The Congress has formalised an alliance with the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh. How do you see that alliance playing out electorally for the Congress?

I have not gone to Uttar Pradesh for a long time. But obviously, they are functioning well, and the reports are that the BJP is in panic.

Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati has fielded a number of candidates in Madhya Pradesh, especially in the Gwalior-Chambal region. She is also holding a number of rallies. Could it be damaging for the Congress?

That is probably their strategy because the Congress always supports the rights of the weaker sections. And this is how they are trying to cut into the Congress votes. Similarly, the friendship between the [Asaduddin Owaisi’s] AIMIM [All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen] and the BJP is well-known.

Rahul Gandhi, in an election rally a few days ago, showed people the Constitution and said it is in danger. And what is your view on linking this with the quota issue? The Congress is alleging that the BJP wants to end reservations.

I agree. See, what is the intent of “400 paar”? This is what the BJP leaders have said, that they want “400 paar” to change the Constitution. There is a statement against reservations given from Mohan Bhagwat ji down to BJP leaders.

Also Read | Madhya Pradesh: Picking up the pieces  

What is your assessment of the overall performance of the Congress in the Lok Sabha election?

Well, we may repeat 2004 [when the Congress led a coalition to power with the BJP’s “India Shining” campaign failing to take off].

I have heard you speaking in your rallies that this is your last election. The BJP says it is an attempt to garner more sympathy.

In my whole political life, I have never gone back on my word.

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