Digvijaya Singh rushes in where even the most sure-footed of Congressmen hesitate to tread.
Known for his penchant to create controversies, the former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh has become far more voluble of late, especially when it comes to taking potshots at the Bharatiya Janata Party and Hindu fundamentalism and projecting himself as a rallying point for Muslims. And Diggy Raja, as the former raja of Raghogarh is called, does it often at the cost of embarrassing his party which must be uneasy about its fallout on the majority community.
In recent months, Singh has openly questioned the police version in the Batla house encounter and called for a judicial probe and has directly confronted Home Minister P Chidambaram over his anti-Maoist and anti-Naxal policy. He visited the families of alleged terrorists in Azamgarh and has been among the first to allege the role of hindutva forces in the Mecca Masjid, Malegoan or Ajmer blasts.
But the latest controversy the Rajput leader has stepped into threatens to damage him personally as it obliquely raises questions about his credibility. He had lost this in Madhya Pradesh, when his focus on political rhetoric rather than bijli-sarak-pani and development—specially in his second term as CM from 1998-2003 — led to an electoral debacle from which the faction ridden party is yet to recover.
Though Singh came to the AICC with an aura of a charismatic and politically astute leader, his image seems to have taken a beating, with questions being raised over his recent reiteration of his telephone conversation on 26/11 with Hemant Karkare. The slain ATS chief, he said, was disturbed by threats from those opposed to his probe in the Malegaon blast in which Hindu extremists were accused. While Singh denied that his statement gave a handle to Pakistan by emphasising that he had nailed Islamabad for the Mumbai terror strike and would fight both Hindu and Muslim fundamentalism, Maharashtra home minister RR Patil’s statement that there was no evidence of such a conversation proved damaging. “Why should I lie?’’ Singh later said.
As on earlier occasions, an embarrassed Congress distanced itself from Singh’s remarks saying that the conversation was between two individuals.
The big question is why does Singh step into such controversies?
There are no clear answers to this when it comes to the 63-year old leader much as there weren’t in the case of another Madhya Pradesh veteran Arjun Singh who is now seen as having played out his innings. The general impression is that by acting as an opposition leader within his own party, Singh is trying to fill the space Arjun Singh once occupied with his pro-minority and left-of-centre stance (despite not resigning over the demolition of the Babri Masjid) that brought him (Arjun Singh) closer to the Left parties in UPA-I’s coalition politics. Also, the Muslim vote is an important electoral determinant in Uttar Pradesh and Assam of which Singh is in charge.
A section in the Congress however believes that with his statements Singh is trying to position himself for a bigger role should Rahul lead the government in the future. They see these as a run up to the end of Singh’s self-imposed 10-year exile from electoral politics in 2013. This would be on the eve of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. But — as Singh would have learned in MP— the best of plans can go awfully awry.