Bhopal, June 1: Until six months ago, he was the Congress’ “model” chief minister, the leader of the 15-strong pack and a shining star among lesser lights.
Today, after the Srinagar conclave of party chief ministers, Digvijay Singh finds himself upstaged by Ashok Gehlot, who was struggling to retain his job during the Mount Abu conclave in November last year due to infighting and drought.
Digvijay may have taken a beating due to the power crisis in Madhya Pradesh and his soft Hindutva stand, but his die-hard supporters attribute his fall from grace to other reasons.
They feel Digvijay’s expertise in governance is proving to be a liability with the Congress high command. A whisper campaign has started at 24 Akbar Road that if Digvijay is elected chief minister for a third-term after the November Assembly election, he could emerge as a contender for the “top job”.
Digvijay himself keeps asserting that his loyalty to Sonia Gandhi and the Nehru-Gandhi family is unflinching. He has also conveyed through formal and informal channels that he has no national aspirations and is content with Madhya Pradesh.
But his supporters have begun to sit up after the Srinagar conclave where Sonia repeatedly complimented the Rajasthan chief minister for “puncturing” the BJP’s election campaign with a job quota for the economically backward upper castes.
At a news conference yesterday, Sonia said no Congress chief minister had objected to Gehlot’s move. But 24 hours earlier, Digvijay had gone public, opposing 14 per cent reservation for the upper castes, saying it could not be implemented as it required a constitutional amendment.
Sonia again seemed at odds with Digvijay when in her opening speech at the conclave she cautioned chief ministers against electoral expediency. She said: “Let us always ask ourselves the question — is what we are doing in the interests of the people'”
For Madhya Pradesh Congress workers, Sonia seemed to be questioning Digvijay’s demand for a nationwide ban on cow-slaughter, his advocacy of cow urine therapy and his increasingly open displays of religion.
The party chief was also seen openly acknowledging that there was a severe power crisis in Madhya Pradesh by asking the chief ministers of Uttaranchal, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh to assist Digvijay.
This was in sharp contrast to earlier conclaves at Mount Abu, Guwahati and Delhi where Digvijay and his state were cited as an example to others.
Two years ago, Sonia created a flutter when she wrote to the Maharashtra and Karnataka governments, asking them to follow Madhya Pradesh’s example in the co-operative movement. Bureaucrats and Congress workers in Maharashtra took it as an affront, pointing out that their state was “streets ahead” of Madhya Pradesh in that respect.
Party leaders hostile to Digvijay say the chief minister has fallen out with 10 Janpath. Digvijay circulated a book among BJP MPs recently, ostensibly to “educate” them on the “true spirit of Hinduism”. But the book was laced with comments that Sonia should not be “allowed” to become Prime Minister on account of her foreign origins.
Soon afterwards, Digvijay’s brother Laxman was one of four MPs to be handed a showcause notice for defying the Congress whip on boycotting defence minister George Fernandes.