Digvijaya in the eye of a raging political storm in MP

Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh are on the same page on their mutual power-sharing mechanism. Otherwise, the raja would scarcely have been got such a wide berth. A public blast from a fellow minister cannot but have embarrassed the government.

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Bhopal: Generating faux media fuss, causing periodic storms in teacups with his outrageous charges against the RSS, has over the years been a time-tested political tool of Rajya Sabha MP and Madhya Pradesh’s irrepressible former Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh. His habitual jibes on the spectre of ‘Hindu terror’ or the ‘fake’ Batla House encounter have in the past proved handy whenever the clouds of political obsolescence threatened to gather over his pate. His talent for backroom manoeuvring in the faction-ridden state Congress helped him stay afloat in the face of impossible odds. But this time he may well be hoist with his own petard unless he comes to terms with his fading political fortunes.

Seldom before has the raja of Raghogarh been in the eye of as severe a storm as the one let loose by his own party colleague, and that too a political tyro of a minister more than 25 years his junior: state Forest Minister Umang Singhar, a three-time MLA from Dhar district. All over a number of letters written by Digvijaya to various ministers seeking action-taken reports on his directives masquerading as requests, the bulk of which concerned transfers and postings of inconvenient officials.

Seldom before has the raja of Raghogarh been in the eye of as severe a storm as the one let loose by his own party colleague

The poison-laced darts aimed at Digvijaya were not limited to the oral. On Sunday, Singhar had shot off a letter to AICC chief Sonia Gandhi in which he accused the raja of cleverly leaking the contents of his letters in the social media, interfering in day-to-day governance, functioning as a shadow chief minster and parallel power Centre, thereby willy-nilly “sabotaging” the work of the state administration.

Much more and much worse was to follow on Tuesday when Singhar doubled the intensity of his firepower after an audio clip surfaced exposing the venality of a few Congress MLAs. Heard in the audio clip was an assistant excise commissioner telling well known Vyapam whistleblower Ananda Rai that some Congress MLAs were collecting “protection money” ranging from Rs 8-15 lakhs from liquor contractors in their constituencies. And that among the dirty money takers was a certain Umang.

DigvijayaStung by the slur, an enraged Singhar let loose a forbidding volley of personal insults calling Digvijaya an outright “blackmailer” who had his hand in every till — be it liquor or mining. He vociferated that the raja wanted his men in key positions in every department. Unquenchable was his thirst to make money when, ideally, he should have hung up his Gandhi cap after 10 years as CM, and changed the course of his life. What happened was the reverse. Instead of spending his time reminiscing of God and singing bhajans, the raja went off on a second honeymoon and was now back claiming his share of filthy lucre.

Singhar also questioned the wisdom of the raja’s perennial reiteration (the latest being last week) of weather-beaten charges against the Sangh Parivar that their members were on the payroll of the Pakistan ISI, and that more Hindus than Muslims were spying for the enemy agency. The party, he said, had paid dearly for his anti-Hindu stance.

Singha’s fulminations were not entirely uttered in the interests of a cleaner government. Given his proximity to Jyotiraditya Scindia, there was a two-fold motive behind the vicious onslaught on the former CM. First, to stymie Digvijaya’s own plan to install either himself or his nominee (Ajay Singh, son of ex-CM Arjun Singh) as the new MPCC chief. And second, to make it clear to both the state leadership as well as the high command that the continued raw deal given to Scindia would not be in the long-term interests of the party. The clamour to install Scindia as PCC chief has been growing though his chances seem slim given his lack of connect with grass-root party workers coupled with his proud maharaja image.

Few have access to Chief Minister Kamal Nath’s chamber. It is only in Chhindwara, his home bastion, that he functions like a people’s leader.

The long history of animosity between Singhar’s extended family and Digvijaya was also a factor behind the verbal assault. He is a nephew of the late tribal leader Jamuna Devi and sometimes opposition leader during the Shivraj Singh Chouhan regime. During her lifetime Jamuna Devi (better known as bua ji) was a permanent thorn in the flesh of the Thakur leader. Being vastly senior, she never accepted him as boss even as a minister in his cabinet.

Otherwise, there was no compelling reason for Singhar’s sudden outburst. The view that Digvijaya was the real power behind Chief Minister Kamal Nath has been in circulation ever since the Congress was voted to power in December 2018. Given Nath’s inexperience and lack of familiarity with running either party matters or the state administration, the arrangement seemed entirely normal. Questioned, he had once told this writer that he only did what Nath requested him to do.

Nath’s corporate style of functioning is alien to the state’s work culture. Which is why most favour seekers and others seeking expeditious project clearances flock to Digvijaya’s official residence. Hence, the outer manifestation of his influence. Nath, on his part, is mostly locked in his secretariat office like a CEO but keeps mostly aloof from the general public. Few have access to his chamber. It is only in Chhindwara, his home bastion, that he functions like a people’s leader.

Quite obviously, Nath and Digvijaya are on the same page on their mutual power-sharing mechanism. Otherwise, the raja would scarcely have been got such a wide berth. A public blast from a fellow minister cannot but have embarrassed the government, especially at a time when the state’s coffers are empty, and infighting within the state Congress has intensified over the choice of Nath’s successor as PCC chief.