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‘Modi factor isn’t what it was in ‘14, it’s a liability in some seats’: Digvijaya Singh

The veteran Congress leader gave the party between 12 and 16 seats in Madhya Pradesh.

lok sabha elections Updated: May 11, 2019 07:57 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Congress candidate from Bhopal Lok Sabha seat Digvijaya Singh during a roadshow for the ongoing Lok Sabha polls, in Bhopal, on 9, 2019. (PTI Photo)(PTI)

Two-time Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijaya Singh is locked in an electoral battle with Pragya Thakur of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Since 1984, Congress hasn’t won from Bhopal. Vinod Sharma spoke to Digvijaya Singh in the middle of his campaign. Excerpts:

What political point are you trying to make by contesting from Bhopal?

There’s no question of scoring a political point. As a dedicated soldier of the Congress party, I was asked by my leader to contest. So I’m contesting. It’s as simple as that.

How confident are you of wining the seat the BJP has held for three decades?

I like challenges. In 1984-85, I contested from Rajgarh, which also was never won by Congress since 1952. I’ve taken a round of the constituency where BJP won five assembly segments and the Congress three in the state polls in 2018.

How would you rate your chances on a scale of ten?

Nine point five....

From the BJP-RSS side, your rival, Pragya Thakur, is someone who embodies the ideology of Hindutva. They’re trying to juxtapose her persona to what you’ve come to represent; especially your stance against so-called “Hindu terror”.

I didn’t choose my opponent. It’s the BJP that chose their best candidate although she was never in the BJP. Obviously, there was no other competent BJP leader in here to contest against me. They had to import a leader with baggage... Insofar as the choice (of Pragya) is concerned, the perception is that she may like to incite hardcore religious fundamentalism to polarise Hindus and Muslims. That’s their primary strategy; in fact, the only strategy they have.

What’s your counter to their strategy in these elections?

I don’t talk about their agenda. I talk about what ails Bhopal, what I can do for Bhopal, what’s my vision for Bhopal. I’ve incorporated all that in my vision document.

Will it be right to say that the way your campaign progresses in Bhopal could be a microcosm of the way Congress’s campaign progresses in Madhya Pradesh?

Each seat has its characteristics. For instance, you cannot compare Sidhi with Bhopal or Morena with Sidhi...

Are you saying there’s no common narrative? Not even the Narendra Modi factor?

To some extent, yes. But the Modi factor isn’t what it used to be in 2014. It’s a liability now in some constituencies.

How many of the 29 seats in the state can your party win — and will Bhopal be one among them?

Bhopal certainly will be one among them. I’d place Congress’s tally between 12 and 16 seats.

What makes you that optimistic when Congress regime in MP appears afflicted by early anti-incumbency? The loan waver promise to the farmers hasn’t been fully met. There’s palpable resentment against it on ground.

There is no anti-incumbency at all. As for the farmers’ loan write-off, the process has started. Of the 5.5 million farmers, loans of 2.2 million have been waived. A Congress delegation took to former CM, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the whole list of beneficiaries of the loan waiver scheme. The benefit has reached 40% farmers who have a bank account.

I don’t see very many top leaders of your party coming here to campaign for you. Why is it so?

Mrs Sonia Gandhi, Rahul ji and Priyanka ji are not coming but others are coming.

From what I’ve gathered, your fight isn’t as much against Pragya Thakur as it’s against Narendra Modi and Shivraj SIngh Chouhan. Do you agree?

That’s what they want to project. But in a parliamentary democracy, both matter: the candidate and the party. We’re not in a presidential system of governance that Modi is pitted against Digvijaya Singh. It’s Pragya Thakur against me in Bhopal.

Pragya Thakur’s is an emotive appeal. You’re there as one who had ruled the state as CM from 1993 to 2003. You claim to know Bhopal better than your opponent. What are the salient points on which people must vote for you and not Pragya?

Because of my experience, my performance, my accessibility and knowledge of the area.

Two former BJP CMs, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Uma Bharti, have campaigned against you...

Yes. I wish they had contested against me.

You think you’d have defeated them?

Yes, hopefully yes...

Does that make Pragya’s candidature a cakewalk for you...

I don’t say it’s a cakewalk. Shivraj would’ve been a much stronger candidate. Uma Bharti I’d say would’ve been an even more difficult opponent. Be that as it may, the core support base of BJP and RSS will support Pragya.

Are you serious? The talk in the city is that a section of the local BJP is secretly helping you.

I don’t think you have the right information. BJP leaders are working for Pragya. They’re doing their best.

If Modi comes here to campaign, would it make a qualitative difference against you?

I don’t think it’ll make any difference. People know me too well. Now the people of India also know him fairly well.

But the BJP’s slogan here is Pragya ko jitwao, Modi ki sarkar banwao (make Pragya win to have Modi government again).

The whole campaign of BJP is Modi versus the rest. It doesn’t bother us because it happened earlier also (in state polls).

What are the issues on which you expect Bhopal to finally vote?

People, by and large, want to see the city grow and be recognised internationally — for its natural habitat, history and heritage. It’s centrally located and should connect other major cities of India. We’d try to create a huge logistics hub here for e-commerce for transportation across the country of goods that are ordered.

First Published: May 11, 2019 07:04 IST

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