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Congress represents Indian ethos where we allow all religions to flourish: Digvijaya Singh

Digvijaya Singh. File   | Photo Credit: K. Murali Kumar

What is the objective of the five and a half month Narmada Yatra that you will undertake from September 30? You have said it will not be held under the banner of the Congress or any religious banner.

In 1998, I got up thrice at night with somebody telling me that I should do the Narmada Parikrama and since then it has been in my mind. I had made this public at that time also. I was chief minister at the time. I also spoke to my guru, Swaroopanandaji, the Shankaracharya of Dwarkapeeth, and he said I should fo it. I couldn’t do this earlier but now I felt this was the right time to complete whatever I have wanted to do.

I don’t want to make it a political thing. I have never used religion for politics and I have always opposed the use of religion for politics: that is something I have always disagreed with the BJP over. Religion is a very private thing although religion and politics have gone together for thousands of years. But in a diverse country like ours, you can’t impose one religion over another.

Why did I choose this time? We have elections in Madhya Pradesh in November 2018. I have been out of touch for a very long time. Though I will not be addressing any political meeting, I will not be using the Congress flag, but yes, I will be meeting people..

I believe you have done a fair amount of research for your trip and will be meeting farmers, tribals..

The Narmada divides Madhya Pradesh into half and covers three important regions, Vindhya Pradesh, Mahakaushal, Neemar. Therefore I think I will be able to get to know how things are in Madhya Pradesh. I have been out of touch for the last 13/14 years. People who were with me are either not there, or have become too old. A new crop of people have come in, their children, their grandchildren.. It will help me to understand what the issues are.

As far as AICC is concerned, I had only one charge left, Andhra Pradesh, which is very small and can be handled by a secretary. I sought permission from the Congress President, and she gave it. This is a sabbatical.

People say you have the widest contacts of anyone in the Congress in Madhya Pradesh.

Well, I was chief minister for 10 years, and PCC chief for seven years before that. So yes, I know a lot of people, and they have been in touch, though I don’t interfere in the politics of Madhya Pradesh. Now, I will be reconnecting with the people of the state.

By undertaking a yatra associated with Hinduism, are you saying I am a good Hindu?

I am and have been a good Hindu and I don’t need a certificate from the BJP or the sangh for that. Basically, I had this in mind and I had a lean period in which I thought I would be able to do it.

At a time when the BJP and RSS have thrust Hindu majoritarianism on the people, isn’t it important to make a distinction between being a good Hindu and promoting Hindu majoritarianism?

That’s communalism. A good Hindu, a good Muslim, a good Christian, a good Sikh will never speak against any other religion and will respect all other religions. Because every religion teaches us to be a good citizen, a good human being. And a good human being should not attack another’s faith or religion. The BJP and sangh have initiated and consistently run a campaign linking (Hindu) religious fundamentalism with nationalism. But is killing someone who is not of your faith nationalism? Is killing innocent people nationalism?

So do you think you will be able to send that message out through your yatra?

The Congress represents the Indian ethos where we allow all religions to flourish. There have been no religious wars in India, unlike in Europe. ..What BJP is trying to do goes against the very idea of India. This is something that we have to make people realise… I hope that message comes through.

Who will accompany you on your yatra? I am told that Congress leaders like Anil Shastri and Sandeep Dikshit may join you.

I am not inviting anyone and I am not stopping anyone. I and my wife will be undertaking this yatra.

You recently had a 90-minute meeting with Jagadguru Shankaracharya Raj Rajeshwaram Maharaj at the latter’s ashram in Haridwar. He is believed to be close to the BJP and RSS.

He is not the traditional Shankaracharya. The traditional ones are at Joshimath, Badrinath, Puri and Kanchi. And then Shringeri was added later on. I had got a message that he wanted to meet me… He had attended my son’s wedding reception. I had forgotten but I had helped him out in a land dispute in Ujjain -- he had given power of attorney to a RSS worker who transferred the land to someone else. He went on a hunger fast. I was chief minister and I saw to it that he got back part of his land. He also told me that his guru was very close to my father..

Recently, in front of (RSS chief) Mohan Bhagwat, he said the way things are going in this country if you keep quiet, like Bhismapitamah kept quiet during Draupadi’s cheerharan (disrobing), history will never forgive you. The cheerharan of this country is going on, he said foreign companies are doing cheerharan of the country. He claims that he was in the RSS but is not sold to the RSS.

Rahul Gandhi’s recent trip to the United States appeared to have been undertaken to give him an image makeover. When will he undertake a similar exercise in India?

I have been of the strong opinion that Mr Rahul Gandhi should open up more to the press here. He is very sound in his political ideology and thinking. … as he rightly pointed out – 1000 people have been hired, less by the RSS, more by Mr Modi, to run a 24x7 sustained campaign to make a mockery of what Rahul Gandhi says… He should have more of the sort of meetings he had in the US over here. Although in India it may not be played up as much as it was in the US. But I strongly feel he did the right thing, spoke on the right issues. I was surprised that when senior BJP leaders reacted so violently… Clearly they are concerned about the impact of what he said in the US and are worried that this will ultimately percolate to people in India.

He is getting into his stride.

But the criticism about Mr Gandhi is that he us not consistent, he cannot sustain himself too long, there are long gaps…

You are getting influenced by the paid Modi Bhakts…

He is consistent…but yes, people want to know what Mr Gandhi stands for and gradually, people are getting disillusioned by Mr Modi and his policies. There is a great opening for Mr Gandhi to challenge him.

In your party some people believe that Mr Modi must be challenged and Mr Rahul Gandhi should get an image makeover. The other section says that till you start winning elections, no one will take you seriously.

State elections and national elections are two different ball games. One does not influence the other. What is more important is our 2019 elections. In the meantime, we have several state elections…we have to pay attention to them as well. As soon as Mr Gandhi returns from, he will be going to Gujarat for four days. Now the time that he is giving the states is very encouraging.

Both things have to go on simultaneously... The troll army of Mr Modi must be proved wrong.

What changes do you anticipate in the party after Mr Gandhi takes over as President?

Ours is a party with a centralised leadership and decision-making is vested in the president and the Congress Working Committee. And the CWC, by and large, has given its authority to the Congress President and Mrs Gandhi has given some of those powers to the vice president.

(Once Mr Gandhi becomes President), he will have to act more decisively – the time has come for that. If you see Modi, he is decisive but every decision he has taken has bombed; still people say he is taking decisions, good, bad, indifferent. Mr Gandhi has to be decisive. If he wants to make changes in the CWC it must be done immediately, changes in the states should be done immediately. He has brought in a new research team, he has a new Social Media chief, Ramya. They are all very good. Changes are taking place that should have taken place much earlier.

There are two sets of senior people in your party, ex-chief ministers like you, Bhupinder Hoods, Sheila Dikshit, Tarun Gogoi, etc and those who were advisers to Ms Gandhi. What role will they have in Mr Gandhi’s Congress?

In an organisational structure you need all kinds of people with different kinds of experience. Take Chidambaram. He may not have experience of state politics but he is one of the most experienced persons in thee Government of India – look at the portfolios he has held – home, finance, commerce. You need a mix of both… Our role will depend on what the Congress President and vice president decide.

Personally, two things are non-negotiable for me – the Congress party and its ideology and my loyalty to the Nehru-Gandhi family. The rest I can discuss.

What will be the role of Sonia Gandhi after the changes?

That of a mentor: she will continue to be chairman of the Congress Parliamentary Board…. She has stopped travelling, she meets fewer people now but you can’t deny the fact that from a situation of hopelessness in the post- Sitaram Kesri period, she brought Congress to power in 2004. She has been able to bring everyone together. Even to those who had criticised her bitterly she has shown both political astuteness and magnanimity and succeeded in defeating the BJP in 2004. She’s all there.

What do you say about the recent exits if Shankarsinh Vaghela in Gujarat and Narayan Rane in Maharashtra?

These people came for power and went away for power. They had nothing to do with the ideology of the Congress.

It makes your party look shaky.

Not at all. If they had continued they would have created problems within the party. Good riddance to them.

Efforts to unite the opposition were doing well till the exit of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar. Now there is speculation that Sharad Pawar’s NCP may go too.

One thing I can tell you, Sharad Pawar will never go with the BJP – he has never done so and won’t do it now.

What about Praful Patel?

Praful Patel may be a channel which Sharad Pawar may be using … but Sharad Pawar is too astute a politician -- he won’t go.

Opposition unity will come. I will take you to 1977: when Emergency was lifted, everyone thought that the Congress will sweep because there is no opposition. But within 15 days the Janata Party was formed, they all merged into one party and defeated the Congress. People are keeping quiet at the moment. At that time too, people were keeping quiet but anger was building up. A similar situation is developing now. People are scared, farmers, traders, exporters, industrialists are scared, ad this will carry on till the elections are announced. Anger will come out. It will be up to opposition parties to channelize that anger into votes. Opposition unity should not be seen too early. Mr Modi has peaked and the slide has started. Look at the statement of Mr Arun Jaitley that he is prepared to do anything to improve growth. That is a sign of frustration on the part of the finance minister. My advice to him is to resign.

Will you attend the Congress plenary since you will be on your yatra?

Let’s see..

Is a third stint as chief minister of Madhya Pradesh possible?

It is totally out of the question.

There is still no new PCC chief in Madhya Pradesh?

There is no vacancy. If there is no change, he ( Arun Yadav) will continue ( laughs).

Seriously

If a change has to be made it should be done quickly so that the message can go out. Probably he (Rahul Gandhi) is waiting for organisational elections to be over.

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