| Goof-ups galore: Digvijay Singh, Sonia Gandhi, Arun Jaitley
Bhopal, May 4: Election-bound Madhya Pradesh is flush with VIP red faces — and not just because of the searing summer.
First, Union minister Arun Jaitley sought to nail Digvijay Singh by quoting from a report that actually commended the government for its developmental work. Now it is the chief minister’s turn to make a faux pas.
Last week, Jaitley circulated a report prepared by the Confederation of Indian Industries and the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Contemporary Studies that showed Madhya Pradesh ranked 25th among states and Union Territories. But Jaitley did not realise that the report acknowledged that Madhya Pradesh had emerged from the Bimaru league with improvements in health and education.
Keen to beat the BJP in its Hindutva game, Digvijay recently circulated a book — Hindu Hone ka Dharma — among BJP MPs to inform them about the “true spirit of Hinduism”. But in his zeal to expose the Sangh parivar’s distortion of Hinduism, the chief minister probably failed to read those passages in the book where author Prabhash Joshi questions Sonia Gandhi’s credentials on account of her foreign origin.
In one passage, Joshi, a former editor of a Hindi daily, says the sacrifices of the freedom fighters would go to waste if the Congress chief became Prime Minister.
He says: “Woh sab videshi shasakon ko bhagane wale senani the. Unhon ne kabhi socha bhi nahin hoga ki videshiyon ke khilaf sau saal tak larne wale is desh mein koi videshi mool ka vyakti pradhan mantri hone ka dava pesh karega (They were all fighters committed to drive foreigners out. They would never have imagined that someone of foreign origin would be in the running for prime ministership in a country that fought against foreigners for 100 years).”
Elsewhere, Joshi asks the Congress to consider if Sonia is greater than the spirit of nationhood. He says: “Sonia Gandhi is desh aur uske bhavishya se badi nahin hain. Sonia Gandhi Congress se bhi badi nahin hain (Sonia Gandhi is not bigger than the nation and its future. Sonia is not even greater than the Congress).”
Joshi, who was close to deposed Congress chief Sitaram Kesri, has penned sentences that recall Sharad Pawar, Purno Sangma and Tariq Anwar’s letter of revolt. He says even non-resident Indians are uncomfortable with the idea of a person of foreign origin leading the country.
Digvijay’s supporters have kept silent publicly, but privately some have said that the distribution of Joshi’s book was not aimed at endorsing his anti-Sonia remarks. Instead, it was designed to highlight how the Sangh and its allies were distorting Hinduism.
The zeal to project himself as a champion of Dalits is driving Digvijay to Vancouver, Canada, where a conference on the downtrodden will debate whether incidents of casteism and untouchability in India is equivalent to racism.
The chief minister will be in Vancouver from May 16 to 18. The International Dalit Conference in Dalit Vision for the 21st Century, which former President K.R. Narayanan and senior politicians such as Buta Singh, Ram Vilas Paswan and Jabbar Patel, as well as several Dalit authors and activists have been invited to attend, comes when Madhya Pradesh is gearing up for Assembly elections in November.
Both the Congress and the BJP are concentrating on Dalit votes for the elections. The Madhya Pradesh chief minister’s plan to travel to Vancouver becomes significant in this context. The Congress leader has travelled abroad only thrice in his nine-and-a-half-year tenure, while some of his counterparts have gone abroad three times a year.
However, Singh’s plan is to get an international mandate, at the Vancouver meet, for his Dalit agenda and showcase his much-publicised 21-point Bhopal Declaration, which was adopted in January 2001. This could then be used to advantage during the Assembly polls.
The chief minister never misses a chance to emphasise his government’s achievement of giving land to landless Dalits and the move to buy a third of the state’s requirements from Dalit entrepreneurs.
The BJP, however, claims to have figures indicating that atrocities against Dalits have gone up during Digvijay’s tenure. The party recently adopted the Mhow Declaration to counter Singh’s Bhopal Declaration. The BJP’s statement promises to job reservation for Dalits in the private sector and assures five acres to each landless Dalit.
The BJP’s move to woo Dalits is another factor that led to Digvijay deciding to attend the Vancouver conference. Political observers are watching what he will say on the subject as his remarks would have political repercussions in Madhya Pradesh.
Digvijay will be accompanied by his secretary, Amar Singh, who is seen as the prime architect and the brain behind the Congress leader’s Dalit politics.