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“If we don’t get the mandate, we will sit in the Opposition”



You will see in this election that voters are going to opt for national rather than regional parties



For all his quiet charm, Digvijay Singh can pack a punch. In recent months, the Congress general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh has been in the news a lot, mostly for his quarrels with Amar Singh and Mayawati. A nay-sayer to any seat-sharing arrangement between the Samajwadi Party and the Congress, he told the SP general secretary the Congress knew better than to go to his party with a begging bowl. A volley of words followed from Mr. Amar Singh. Indeed, in Congress circles, it is well known that Mr. Singh has two bugbears. One, the regional parties in general. And two, the Samajwadi Party and Amar Singh in particular. Not surprisingly, Mr. Singh looked visibly relieved when the SP-Congress deal came undone. He talked to VIDYA SUBRAHMANIAM.

What explains the Congress’ optimism in this general election?

You will see in this election that voters are going to opt for national rather than regional parties.

My own assessment is that regional and casteist parties have peaked and people are tired of the way they have conducted themselves in the last five years. People will vote for a party that is in a position to form a government.



Can you do without the regional parties?

If we get a fractured mandate then obviously we would need to look at them. But one thing is clear. There are not many takers for the Bharatiya Janata Party. The Congress, the Left Front and even Lalu Prasadji will never go with the BJP.

There are some parties that have aligned on and off with the BJP but these cannot match the strength and numbers of the secular group.

Your strategy for U.P. is difficult to understand. Why drag the alliance talks with the SP if the intention was to go it alone?

We wanted to go into this election with the SP in order to prevent a split in the secular vote. Unfortunately, the SP showed no accommodation. But on hindsight, we feel that the failed deal was a blessing in disguise.

Why?

Because we are contesting almost 70 of U.P.’s 80 seats and we are in the reckoning in at least 45 of them. The decision has electrified our workers and voters alike. Our feedback is that there is a lot of support for the Congress and that people will vote for the party provided it has the infrastructure to convert the support into votes.

I have personally been working on this aspect for the last one year, and today I can say that the Congress machinery is back in action in U.P.



The goodwill for the Congress in U.P. is evident on the ground. But the Congress lacks a core caste vote.

I repeat that people are fed up of casteist parties. When the casteist character of the election changes, then, we will automatically get the votes of all castes. The electoral landscape in U.P. will change completely by the time of the next Assembly election.



Most estimates for U.P. say that an SP-Congress alliance would have won a minimum of 50 seats.

Perhaps so, but the loss is entirely theirs [SP’s]. As for the Congress, let me assure you that it will post surprising results.

There is some talk that a major BJP revival is on the cards in U.P. Don’t you think the Congress’ failure to clinch a deal with the SP is to blame for this? The secular vote appears to have fragmented.

It is true that the BJP will benefit to some extent. But Ajit Singh, with whom the BJP has an alliance, will lose his Muslim vote and there has also been an erosion in his Jat vote.



Rahul Gandhi has been chasing the Dalit vote in Amethi. Does this make sense given the Dalit attachment to Mayawati?

Oh yes, it does. Dalits are more fragmented than you might think. Dalit sub-castes such as Pasis and Valmikis are upset that Mayawati has picked out her successor from the Chamar community. They feel left out and offended. This is the section we want to tap.



Overall how many seats do you give the Congress?

I will not specify a number but we will do better than in the last election.



Will you support a third front government?

It would be premature to say anything now. But my own observation is that governments formed with outside support do not last. The tail cannot wag the body. So it is unlikely we will prop up a Third Front government.



What do you do in that case?

We will do what any political party does. If we don’t get a mandate, we will sit in the Opposition.

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