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Issue:January' 2018


Diggy’s shadow over Congress government

N D Sharma

Digvijaya Singh The Telegraph’ (Kolkata) carried a diary item in its February 10 edition. It was like this: Madhya Pradesh Congress bigwigs, Chief Minister Kamal Nath downwards, were attending a wedding reception in Bhopal. Hari Shankar Ahirwar, the attendant of a public toilet nearby, had decided to petition the Chief Minister to ‘retrieve’ his wife who was being detained by a magician. With his application addressed to the CM, he went past Kamal Nath and handed his application over to ‘Raja Saheb’ (former Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh). When a guest told Ahirwar that Kamal Nath, and not Digvijaya Singh, was the Chief Minister, the hapless man could not just believe it.

Mehbooba Mufti and Mayawati Ahirwar may have committed the faux pas out of ignorance, or innocence, but the fact is that the shadow of Digvijaya Singh looms over the functioning of the Kamal Nath government. The Raja Saheb’s hand can be seen in all major decisions of the government. Perhaps the only notable decision Kamal Nath took without consulting Digvijaya Singh was when his government invoked National Security Act (NSA) against three persons alleged to have committed cow slaughter in Khandwa district. Digvijaya Singh promptly announced through the media that it was wrong to invoke the NSA in this case --- former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and former Uttar Pradesh CM Mayawati reacted much later. (Both of them said that there was no difference between BJP government of Uttar Pradesh and Congress government of Madhya Pradesh).

Kamal Nath Digvijaya Singh has got all his favourite bureaucrats, IAS and IPS officers mainly, suitably readjusted. In all, nearly 800 transfers were effected by Kamal Nath during the first 50 days of his government. Interesting is the case of an IAS officer who was posted in Chhindwara, fiefdom of Kamal Nath when he was Forest Minister in the Union government. A small indiscretion on the part of the official while talking to a reporter had enraged Kamal Nath so much that he had promptly called up Digvijaya Singh, then Chief Minister, and got the official removed from Chhindwara within two days. The official had, however, endeared himself to Digvijaya Singh and was posted to important positions. In the loop line during the BJP government, he is back with a bang occupying one of the most important positions in the Secretariat.

S R Mohanty Another Digvijaya Singh protégé has been elevated to the post of Chief Secretary and is now the cause of embarrassment to the Chief Minister. Though competent and senior enough to head the bureaucracy in the State, S R Mohanty has been facing corruption charges since the time of Uma Bharti’s regime (2003- 2004). He has been surviving on legal manoeuvres. On a PIL challenging Mohanty’s appointment as Chief Secretary, a Supreme Court bench presided over by CJI Ranjan Gogoi has sought the Kamal Nath government’s response by Marchend. The allegations in the PIL against Mohanty include: As head of M P State Industrial Development Corporation, Mohanty had sanctioned Rs 100 crore surreptitiously to dubious companies by side-stepping rules and without permission from the State Government (headed by Digvijaya Singh) and CAG had severely indicted Mohanty on this issue; after the CAG indictment, the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) had registered an FIR which was quashed by the High Court but the Supreme Court had permitted the EOW to probe afresh; in 2011, the Supreme Court had dismissed Mohanty’s plea for a probe by Lokayukta or an independent probe agency; the EOW had charge-sheeted Mohanty for corruption and cheating under Prevention of Corruption Act and Indian Penal Code; the MP government had granted permission for his prosecution; in March 2013, the High Court quashed the charge-sheet on the ground that the EOW had conducted no fresh investigation but relied on old documents, which was contrary to the Supreme Court order. The MP government’s appeal against this order is pending in the Supreme Court.

Ranjan Gogoi The PIL further states: immediately after his appointment as Chief Secretary, Mohanty wound up an 11-year-old disciplinary inquiry pending against him after procuring a clean chit; he got the Director-General of EOW, who was appointed to the post only six months earlier and was probing the charges against Mohanty, replaced by another officer; the government and the new EOW Director-General have decided to withdraw corruption charges against Mohanty before a trial court as also the MP government’s appeal against the MP High Court decision quashing the charge-sheet.

During the election campaign, Digvijaya Singh had made himself almost scarce after declaring that Congress votes decreased wherever he addressed public meetings. However, he had become hyperactive after the results were out and the Congress emerged as the largest single party with 114 seats (two short of an absolute majority in a House of 230). The BJP tally stopped at 109; seven went to others (one SP, two BSP and 4 independents). The Congress acted fast and bested BJP in contacting and getting the support of the ‘other’ seven.

Digvijaya Singh was said to have played a role in getting Kamal Nath appointed PCC president, thwarting the chance of Guna MP Jyotiraditya Scindia who was then considered as the front-runner. Scindia had increased his visits to the State. In the aftermath of the police firing on farmers in Mandsaur district in early June in 2017, he held a three-day Satyagraha in Bhopal. Most of the State party leaders, including Digvijaya Singh (who was AICC general secretary) attended it. Scindia also held a one-day demonstration at Khalghat in Khargone district on the farmers’ issue. Kamal Nath, who could not make it to Bhopal, joined Scindia at Khalghat. Besides, Scindia had held several programmes in the State to highlight the grievances of the people in the BJP government of Shivraj Singh Chouhan, with main emphasis on the plight of the farmers in the State.

With the appointment of Kamal Nath as the PCC chief, Scindia was compensated with the post of chairman of Campaign Committee, with the party high command repeatedly emphasising that the chief minister would be decided after the elections. Under the constant vigil of the high command, the party in the State had displayed a semblance of unity during the Assembly election campaign after a long time. The selection of candidates was without much hassle, unlike in 2008 and 2013. However, the selection of chief minister was not that smooth. After an exercise lasting several days and with the intervention of party president Rahul Gandhi, Kamal Nath was declared to be the Leader of Congress Legislature Party (CLP). Digvijaya Singh’s role in getting his old friend selected was said to be significant.

No other Congress leader has as much grip over State’s politics as Digvijaya Singh. This gives him immense power of manipulation. Kamal Nath has to mainly depend on him. The problem with Kamal Nath is that he has never been active in State politics, having kept himself confined to Chhindwara which he has been representing in Lok Sabha since 1980 except for one term. While he gets along well with Scindia also, his relationship with Digvijaya Singh is much deeper as both of them were protégés of the late Arjun Singh.

Now the selection of members of the Council of Ministers was no easy task. The week-long efforts by Kamal Nath, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Digvijaya Singh in Bhopal and Delhi failed to produce an agreed list. The intervention of Rahul Gandhi was of not much help. The only point of agreement was that those who had won for the first time would not be inducted into the Council of Ministers. The problem, it was said, arose because of Digvijaya Singh’s insistence that his son Jaivardhan Singh (who has won from Raghogarh constituency for the second time) should be given the cabinet rank. This prompted Scindia to push some names of his own supporters. Ultimately, the three agreed on 28 names --- 22 of them first entrants to the Council of Ministers and only six old hands who had served as ministers in the past. Exasperated by claims and counter-claims of Digvijaya Singh and Jyotiraditya Scindia, Kamal Nath then announced cabinet rank for all the 28 ministers. Some old timers publicly expressed their anguish at their non-inclusion in the cabinet while distribution of portfolios left Scindia and his supporters less than satisfied.

No other Congress leader has as much grip over State’s politics as Digvijaya Singh. This gives him immense power of manipulation. Kamal Nath has to mainly depend on him. The problem with Kamal Nath is that he has never been active in State politics, having kept himself confined to Chhindwara which he has been representing in Lok Sabha since 1980 except for one term. While he gets along well with Scindia also, his relationship with Digvijaya Singh is much deeper as both of them were protégés of the late Arjun Singh.

An offshoot of the cabinet formation was the renewed tension in Digvijaya Singh’s family. Among the senior party leaders left out of the cabinet is Lakshman Singh, younger brother of Digvijaya Singh. Lakshman Singh has been elected to the State Assembly for t h e third time and was also a member of Lok Sabha for five terms. He was a claimant to a berth in the cabinet but Digvijaya Singh was said to have insisted only on his son’s inclusion. This appeared to have renewed the bitterness in the Raghogarh household which Digvijaya Singh was able to adroitly paper over in the past few months.

The tension in the Raghogarh family had started when Digvijaya Singh married Amrita Rai in 2015, not long after the death of his first wife Asha Singh. His marriage was opposed by his son and daughters, but more bitterly by Lakshman Singh and his wife Rubina Sharma Singh. Rubina is Lakshman Singh’s second wife. The major cause of Rubina’s bitterness was that Digvijaya Singh had opposed tooth and nail Lakshman’s marriage to Rubina on the ground that she was not of their Thakur caste; and now Digvijaya Singh was marrying Amrita Rai who was also not a Thakur. Property, too, was said to be behind the family feud.

Master of manipulation as he is, Digvijaya Singh had managed to appease Lakshman Singh and Rubina and a semi-normal relationship was re-established in the family. Digvijaya Singh and Amrita were said to have invited Lakshman Singh and Rubina over lunch in their Delhi residence.

Digvijaya Singh’s “refusal” to get his younger brother included in the cabinet has rekindled the old bitterness. In her comment on a post in Facebook, Rubina Sharma Singh observed: Digvijaya Singh “has a serious insecurity problem. Can’t stand it that Lakshman wins elections. You should have seen what all was done to try and to make him lose. Absolutely pathetic!” She also scotched the rumours that Lakshman Singh would contest for Lok Sabha.