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Digvijay battle on three fronts

Bhopal, Nov. 13: The Congress in Madhya Pradesh today unveiled its manifesto, a proposed defamation suit against Uma Bharti and a potential bone of contention with the BJP over corruption.

“I take strong exception to Uma Bharti’s wild, baseless, unrestrained and repeated corruption charges against me. I will file a defamation suit against her in the court on coming Monday, November 17,” chief minister Digvijay Singh said in Bhopal.

The BJP chief ministerial nominee’s repeated “personal and baseless allegations” amounted to a violation of the poll’s moral code of conduct, he alleged. Sources said Digvijay would seek a token compensation of Re 1.

Union law minister Arun Jaitley, who is Bharti’s campaign mentor, said the chief minister was free to seek legal recourse though neither he nor any other party leader had flouted the conduct code.

Digvijay “shocked” Jaitley by saying corruption was “unfortunate (but) not a big issue”. The chief minister tried to drive his point home by emphasising the success rate of tainted politicians in polls.

The assertion, he clarified, was not meant to either endorse or condone corruption in public life.

Jaitley said Digvijay’s dose of “cold reality” was a big mistake. “The gravity of the crime cannot be lessened by the fact that one is elected” to the Assembly or Parliament.”

The chief minister said he wanted to take the steam out of Jaitley’s argument by naming a southern chief minister and some Union ministers, but “decency” prevented him from doing so.

Jaitley defended Union ministers Gingee Ramachandran and George Fernandes and former BJP chief Bangaru Laxman. Their cases could not be clubbed with the wider ambit of corruption in public life, he said.

“Gingee was brought back (to the cabinet) when his name was cleared. Laxman resigned as head of the BJP. There was no case against Fernandes as he had merely resigned on probity in the wake of Tehelka.”

Digvijay refuted Bharti’s claim the state Lokayukt’s recommendations for action against some of his ministers were gathering dust. “There is not a single instance of indicted ministers going scot-free,” he said.

The Congress’ 70-page state manifesto vowed 120 days of guaranteed employment to one unemployed member from each family. “We will frame a legal apparatus to ensure the scheme is implemented in letter and spirit,” Digvijay said.

Overlooking his party’s stated dictum that “there is no such thing as free power”, the chief minister also promised free power to scheduled caste and scheduled tribe farmers owning up to 2 hectares each — but only for irrigation pumps of up to 5 HP.

Scheduled caste and scheduled tribe members living below the poverty line would continue to get up to 30 units of free power, the manifesto said.

The BJP retaliated by releasing a document that countered Digvijay’s claim he had fulfilled “97” per cent of his poll promises from the 1998 campaign. “Obviously, the chief minister is being extremely modest in cutting down 3 per cent marks (from 100) to him,” Jaitley said.

The Congress manifesto, however, went a step further and vowed to dilute the party’s 1998 promise to “actively promote and enforce prohibition”.

The party would instead opt for prohibition where over half the women residents opposed liquor sale in a written submission to the local panchayat, the document said.

Digvijay also promised fast track courts that would pass a verdict within a year, in a bid to counter the BJP’s allegation that 128,000 rape cases had been registered in the state in 10 years of Congress rule.

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