Digvijaya Singh, 64, batting like Yusuf Pathan while leading Congress into the slog overs before the UP elections, triggering one controversy after another with his statements, spoke to HT on Wednesday at his Bhopal house. He played on the front foot throughout this interview, launching fresh attacks on RSS and Baba Ramdev, saying Hindu fundamentalist terror had lately posed a bigger threat to the country than the jihadi variety. Excerpts:
You had pledged political sanyas for 10 years in December 2003, after your electoral defeat. Right now, you are courting almost a controversy a day. What sort of political sanyas is this?
What controversy have I courted?
Calling Bin Laden respectfully Osama-ji…
You haven’t seen the actual statement I had made. You’re going by press reports. My statement was: ‘I’m very happy that US has been able to eliminate the most dreaded terrorist in the world today.’ As a sarcastic comment, I added: ‘I’m very surprised that within 100 yards of the Pakistani army military academy, Osama-ji has been staying, and the establishment does not know.’ Why should I call a dreaded terrorist Osama-ji?
What is your stand on bringing the PM under lokpal?
I’d rather go by the party’s stand in the drafting committee. My premise was that as chief minister, I had no problem being under the Lokayukta's monitoring. But the national scene is very different from the state scene. We cannot allow one authority of lokpal to become so strong that he can hold the country to ransom.
Political parties, especially yours, are issuing statements about civil society crossing its limits. Do only elected politicians have the right to speak out, not common people?
How can you equate elected representatives with non-elected members of society? We have to keep in mind views of civil society who are not in the political scene. That’s why the Congress president has coopted members of civil society in the National Advisory Council. Eminent members like Aruna Roy, Jean Dreze, Harsh Mander…these have been in the forefront of civil society. They were already going through the motions of drafting a good Lokpal bill, in its wisdom, the present government which is extremely sensitive to corruption, coopted people into the drafting committee like Shanti Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal who are known to be anti-Congress.
But Anna Hazare has criticitised the Shiv Sena, for instance, with the stridence.
No, we have no problem with Annasaheb Hazare. He is a very eminent social worker who has done extremely good work in watershed management. He has the reputation of being a non-partisan, apolitical person, so we have no problem with him.
Do politicians fear that people like Anna are filling the gap left by them? Why otherwise would Anna be so relevant?
It is the sensitivity of the government which makes us speak with people who are most critical of us. We have nothing to hide. We are a transparent and open government. Therefore, we were even open to talk to Baba Ramdev, who, as events have proved, is under a lot of cloud.
You call Ramdev a thug, your colleague Kamal Nath is his follower. The seniormost leaders in your government went to negotiate with him. Why is the party speaking in so many voices, Mr Singh?
It is not that. Perhaps I knew a lot more about Baba Ramdev because of my association with people who have given me these details. The person who has not been sincere to his guru, or his own people, who has been promising something which he can’t do…there are a series of misdoings. He should not have been even taken seriously by this government.
Has Rahul Gandhi matured as a politician?
Well, Rahul Gandhi is now 40. He has matured. He has been working for the party for last 7-8 years. He has very sound, inquisitive political instincts.
Is he ready to be PM?
He has the right qualities, instinct and experience to take the mantle of prime ministership now. Of course, it will be his own decision.
Many believe you blame the RSS for everything?
I have blamed them for being involved in terror. I’ve got proof to say that. I’ve said they were behind the Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev’s agitations because I have letters from Sangh functionaries supporting these movements. When I say something about the RSS, I speak with authority and on evidence.
Are you playing minority appeasement politics?
Why should I? As chief minister, I have taken action against both Bajrang Dal and SIMI. I hold both fundamentalist Hindu and fundamentalist Muslim –– or even fundamentalist Christian or Sikh thought to be the biggest challenge to communal harmony in this country. I don’t play cards. When the CM [Shivraj Singh Chouhan] holds conferences where he is felicitated by Muslims, that is not tushti-karan?? When I went to Azamgarh, I was opposed by the Ulema Council on one side and RSS-BJP on the other. When I went to Silchar, Barak Valley of Assam, my effigy was burnt both by AUDF [formerly Assam United Democratic Front] and BJP. As far as I and the Congress are concerned, we speak up against fundamentalism, whether it is Hindu or Muslim doesn’t matter.
Can one compare the scale of Hindu terror groups with global Islamic terror?
The scale is the same in this country. Malegaon 1 and 2, Modasa, Hyderabad Mecca Masjid, Ajmer Sharif dargah, Samjhauta Express…all these have been proven to be acts of fundamentalist Hindus. In Nanded, Parvani, Jalna, Mhow in Indore, Nimach, Bhopal…the blasts and attempts were done by these people. In fact, from 2000 to 2011, there have been more bomb blasts by Hindu fundamentalists than Muslim fundamentalists. Ever since these people were caught in 2008, where are the bomb blasts? Why say Hindu terrorists, Sanghi terrorists. Sorry.
Forensic labs have belied your claims about mass murders in Noida.
You’ll be surprised. Day before, the results from Agra have shown traces of human bones from the ash debris.
Uma Bharti has crossed swords with you in UP. Are you scared?
Uma Bharati is an absolute loose cannon. When she left BJP, she abused party leaders to the extent that she said I would not be sincere to my parents if I go back to BJP. From Day One I have been saying that she won’t find shelter anywhere and will come back to the BJP.
How many seats do you think Congress will get in UP and where do you think these votes will comes from?
We’ll improve our tally to a level to which you will be surprised.
You had said after winning MP elections in 1997 that corruption was not an issue, citing Jayalalithaa and Sukh Ram’s case. Have you changed your view?
I said that in a different context. Corruption has to be fought differently. The Congress brought in Right To Information, the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
You had said election is a game of management, has nothing to do with development, progress, or welfare. You cited Lalu Prasad Yadav’s case. Have you changed that view?
Again, this was said in a different context. Development is an issue, but there are other emotional issues which influence voters.
Are you now in full command of the Congress in Madhya Pradesh?
I was never in full command, not even today. We have a new state Congress chief, Kantilal Bhuria, who is a very capable leader. We have an able CLP leader. Both are competent and mature to lead the state.
Why haven’t factions in MP come together to work for the party?
Factionalism is there in every party. It depends on how well the PCC president brings together the different factions. As PCC chief, I worked with very senior leaders like Arjun Singh, Madhavrao Scindia, Motilal Vora. But we worked as a team.
Is Congress losing its traditional constituencies like the poor, farmers and tribals to the BJP in the state?
We have recovered. We have recovered the tribal vote in many areas. Things are changing.
Has your social engineering failed?
Development will be relevant always, but we can’t ignore the content of society, the social structures.
Shivraj Singh Chouhan is seen as torchbearer of development in the state. What is he doing right?
Between 1991 and 2001, when I was the CM for most of the time, our literacy rate jumped to one of the highest in the country. Between 2001 and 2011, growth in literacy has been one of the lowest. The number of malnourished children and pregnant mothers has increased. This despite the state getting five times the money from the Centre. Chouhan is more of a campaigner than a CM who has taken policy decisions. I planted the trees, he is reaping the harvest.
What’s your plan after 2013, when your so-called political sanyas ends?
I have stuck to my word of not fighting election for 10 years. Now it is up to my party, what it wants me to do after November 2013.
Your son Jaivardhan is getting into politics?
He is getting into politics. He may seek nominations from Raogarh assembly seat in 2013.
What do you do in your leisure, Mr Singh?
What I enjoy most in my free time is to go out into a national park and do wildlife photography. [Tells the photographer] I have the same model as yours, and another camera.
Do you do yoga?
[Laughs] Every day for one hour 15 minutes. Not pseudo yoga of Baba Ramdev, but real yoga.