The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Warhorse returns, with walking stick
- Arjun fills Digvijay vacuum, Cong hope flickers

Bhopal, April 27: Exit Arjun Singh, enter Digvijay Singh. Enter Arjun Singh, exit Digvijay Singh.

Congress politics in Madhya Pradesh seems to have traced a full circle in the last 10 years. It has marked the return of warhorse Arjun Singh in state politics following Digvijay’s move not to hold “public office” for 10 years after he was voted out of power in the December Assembly polls.

These days, Arjun Singh can be seen toiling hard. Walking with the help of a stick and personal attendants, he is one of the few senior party leaders who has been touring the 12 Lok Sabha constituencies that go to polls in the third round on May 5. Except for Chhindwara, Congress prospects are rather dim in most of these seats.

Arjun Singh’s entry has raised a flicker of hope in eastern Madhya Pradesh. In Sidhi, Satna, Shahdol and the Rewa belt, he has been addressing dozens of public meetings to give a boost to the party.

The state Congress unit is in complete disarray. The mega 243-member MPCC is a defunct body — senior party leaders are either staying away or engaged in a fierce battle to save their citadels.

In Chhindwara, AICC general secretary Kamal Nath is engaged in such a needle contest that the seven-time winner has not been able to step out of his constituency to help other party nominees in the Mahakaushal region.

Similarly, Digvijay is fighting a proxy battle in Rajgarh, where his brother Laxman Singh is a BJP nominee. The former chief minister, who is AICC member in charge of Orissa and Assam, has been camping in the district to ensure his brother’s defeat.

Laxman was till recently the Congress MP from Rajgarh. His defection has put extra pressure on Digvijay as a section of the MPCC accuses him of being hand in glove with Laxman. Digvijay admits that Laxman’s defeat would be “crucial” to his political survival.

Ten years ago, Arjun Singh was Digvijay’s mentor or guru, as Digvijay would put it. However, 1993-94 saw Arjun Singh’s political stock going down because of his running feud with then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao.

On May 19, 1995, Arjun Singh floated a breakaway group but, much to his chagrin, the “split” made no impact in Madhya Pradesh. As he slowly went into political wilderness, Digvijay emerged as a rising star with an uninterrupted 10-year stint as chief minister.

However, the December elections altered everything, pushing Digvijay into ignominy. Seizing the opportunity, Arjun Singh is now trying to stage a comeback, though the political climate and his frail health do not seem to be favouring him.

In Guna district, Jyotiraditya Scindia is relatively well placed, but the young maharaja of Gwalior is leaving nothing to chance.

Jyotiraditya had won the byelection with a record margin following Madhavrao Scindia’s death in an air crash, but the Assembly poll results have forced him to sit up. As a result, Jyotiraditya has not been able to tour the state.

In the recent Assembly elections, the Congress won 38 of the 230 seats. In other words, one has to travel hundreds of kilometres to come across a Congress MLA. District after district has no representation from the party.

Congress candidates are feeling the resource crunch, too. Most of them privately admit they have received little or no monetary support from the AICC. Their request for effective campaigners — namely Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka — has not been considered so far.

In such a grim scenario, Arjun Singh’s is a welcome presence. The 71-year-old may not have much support base, but his past record is impressive. He was chief minister of the state thrice, served as governor and was vice-president of the AICC during the Rajiv Gandhi era.

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