Being Digvijay Singh
Today suddenly everyone is discussing the Raja from Radhogar. What is his politics, who are his friends, why is he talking on every issue, what is his agenda but most intriguing is why he is being allowed to get away with statements which have rubbed senior leaders the wrong way?
Digvijay Singh, the AICC general secretary in charge of the crucial Hindi heartland state of Uttar Pradesh has today emerged as the most powerful leader in the congress party after the Gandhi family duo of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.
Over a period of a few years he has positioned himself as the biggest loyalist of the Gandhi family, reacting against adversaries who dare to raise their voice or issue critical statements against the mother or son. Whether it be Anna Hazare, Baba Ramdev, the BJP-RSS, Asaram Bapu or whoever, Digvijay is quick and caustic in his retaliation and neither minces his words nor his punches. This is a self-appointed role where no gag order works on him and where he fittingly replies to all the Gandhi family detractors.
Along with this another role which the former Madhya Pradesh chief minister has taken upon himself is to take on ministers or other senior leaders on key issues which affect the party workers. On issues where the ordinary congress worker is upset, Digvijay Singh has been quick to raise his voice and attack the leaders but with no action being initiated against him and the party leadership finally endorsing the stand taken by him, the message has quickly gone down the line that Digvijay Singh is the man in the family’s confidence and that he has not been talking out of turn.
Contrary to the popular perception in the party that Digvijay Singh’s proximity to both Sonia and Rahul happened after his entry in 24, Akbar Road as a general secretary, the fact is that he nurtured his closeness to Sonia Gandhi during the 10 years when he was the state chief minister and made frequent visits to 10, Janpath at the time when she was out of the power scene. He was one of the few chief ministers who liberally contributed to the Rajiv Gandhi foundation, and when Madhya Pradesh leaders ganged up to have him removed from the chief ministership, they were sternly told to leave him alone as he was doing a good job in the state.
In a masterstroke which paid immense dividends, Digvijay Singh visited 10, Janpath after he lost the Madhya Pradesh elections and told Sonia that, he would not contest an election or take any post for 10 years but would only work for the party. He told her that he was interested in working with Rahul Gandhi to map out his future road to the Prime Ministership and to power.
The Congress says it is now official. The former MoS in the PMO, the controversial Matang Singh has not been admitted into the Congress, according to the official spokesman Manish Tewari.
Sources say that the entry of Singh in the Congress has triggered off a huge political battle within the Congress and the Government with congress heavyweights ranged against AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh who was spearheading the move to bring him back into the party.
The fact that Matang Singh was raided by the Enforcement Directorate, the Income Tax sleuths and the CBI, just the day after his “induction” into the Congress, is a clear indication of powerful people using their might to “fix” Matang Singh as well as send a strong message to Digvijay Singh, said a highly placed source in the party.
It is learnt that Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh objected strongly when news reached him that Matang Singh had met Sonia gandhi and was back in the Congress. Dr Singh’s animosity towards Matang Singh goes back to the days of PV Narasimha Rao when Manmohan Singh was the finance minister and Matang Singh was the powerful minister in Rao’s PMO. Matang obviously rubbed Dr Singh the wrong way, a fact that the Prime Minister has not forgotten till today, despite the fact that Matang Singh is from Assam, the state which sends the Prime Minister to the Rajya Sabha.
Matang Singh is also on the radar of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee who is known to dislike him actively and distinctly. The Home Minister P Chidambaram is also against Matang Singh. P Chidambaram’s wife Nalini Chidambaram is the lawyer for Matang Singh’s former wife Manoranjana who is fighting a battle with her former husband over property, Television channels and a share in his considerable pie.
Sources say it is Digvijay Singh who was instrumental in placing Jitender Singh in the Home Ministry as P Chidambaram’s deputy, a fact which came as an absolute surprise to the Home Minister as he had not been consulted about the appointment of the inexperienced first time MP from. It is learnt that Digvijay Singh had suggested to Rahul Gandhi that this be done. By now it is no secret that there is no love lost between P Chidambaram and Digvijay Singh.
It is learnt that under the combined weight of the PM and the top UPA ministers a high powered raid was let loose on Matang Singh who has numerous business interests and is known to be a multi talented politician who is actually from Bihar but has adopted Assam as his state. But unconfirmed reports suggest that Digvijay Singh, who is currently in Madhya Pradesh, had the raids stopped.
The almost forgotten Matang Singh must never have realized that his return to the congress would trigger off such a flurry of activity from the prime minister downwards and would embarrass the party to such an extent that two general secretaries are taking two different stands on one Matang Singh.
While being attached with him, he won the confidence of Rahul Gandhi, advising him on the complicated politics of Uttar Pradesh, particularly the Muslim and backward politics of the state which is essential to return to power in the state. Again contrary to popular belief, it was Digvijay Singh who was instrumental in putting together Rahul’s team which included Kanishka Singh the son of his good friend S.K.Singh and Jitender Singh whose mother in law is a close personal friend of Sonia Gandhi. The Thakur Biradari is strongly represented around Rahul Gandhi, with Digvijay Singh being responsible for much of this.
But interestingly, while he worked on his profile and strategy, Digvijay Singh decided to remain aloof from the day to day politics of the congress party as he did not want a direct and head on confrontation with the powerful lobby of the party which was currently in power.
But senior leaders say that this is changing now as the battle lines within the party are being more clearly drawn and as the stakes are rising. Digvijay Singh now has his own coterie around him. These are men and women who are not comfortable with the power wielded by Ahmed Patel. They are mainly ministers who have been pulled back into the power game by Digvijay Singh and include Salman Khurshid, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ambika Soni, Sheila Dixit and others.
Within the AICC, Digvijay Singh is mainly a loner and hardly has any support amongst the leaders who sit in the various rooms there but the support of the Gandhi family duo makes up for it. With the power equations in the Congress see sawing from time to time; Digvijay Singh has not been able to get his own way always. Despite having Rahul’s ear, he could not change Rita Bahuguna Joshi as the UPCC President as all the other leaders ganged up to ensure he did not get his way. He had Ashok Chavan made the Maharashtra chief minister but when he was in the USA overseeing his wife’s treatment there, Ahmed Patel hit back and before anyone could say Jack Robinson Chavan was sacked as the chief minister. It was Digvijay Singh who wanted Jagan Mohan Reddsy made as the Andra Pradesh PCC President but Ahmed Patel ensured that he was out of the party on anti-party grounds.
Senior leaders in the Congress are watching with glee and interest the battle between the two most powerful men in the congress party. It’s a battle which was recently seen in the Matang Singh case also. The battle is likely to intensify in the months ahead as the pressure mounts on Dr Manmohan Singh to call it a day and retire from the Prime Ministership. Digvijay Singh is the only senior leader to have made statements saying the need of the hour was a younger leadership and this is being seen as yet another comment which was not dismissed out of hand by 10, Janpath.
By Renu Mittal