Digvijaya: Phoenix rises from the ashes

DB Post 29 December 2018


I ‘m not going to fry pakodas,” said Digvijaya Singh when reporters asked him what he intended doing after his six-month Narmada pilgrimage earlier this year.
He is certainly not frying pakodas.
Rising like a phoenix from the ashes, he is on the centre-stage of Madhya Pradesh politics once again. As the Congress returns to power after 15 years, the person who benefited the most from the change in political fortunes was Diggi Raja.

Kamal Nath may have walked away with the chief minister’s chair, but it is Singh who is enjoying a sudden surge in power and clout.

In the 28-member Cabinet, some say he has as many as 10 ministers. Others put the number at nine. The newly inducted ministers include his son and nephew.

It is an impressive achievement for someone who had been lying low throughout the election campaign. He was not very visible as many in the Congress party feared that if he straddled centre-stage, the BJP would resume its ‘Mr Bantadhar’ campaign.

The serpentine queues of Congress workers in front of his house are an indication of the general perception that prevails.

As the important task of government formation moves at snail’s pace in the strife-ridden Congress, Singh gains in importance.

With chief minister Kamal Nath engaged in the arduous task of governance, Singh’s famous negotiation and persuasion skills have been put to the test not only in ministry formation, but also in portfolio distribution.

Coordination among the warring factions a task that Singh had chosen for himself has suddenly assumed important status.

Digvijaya Singh’s political career was looking downward when he had asked the Congress high command for six months’ leave of absence for his Narmada pilgrimage last year.

The leadership had relieved him of major responsibilities after Goa fiasco, with the local politicians blaming him for not forming the government despite securing a majority in the Assembly elections.

The man, who was once described as Rahul Gandhi’s mentor, was no longer part of the inner charmed circle.

But washing his sins in the holy waters of the Narmada, Singh reinvented himself.

What helped him was also the chemistry that he enjoys with Nath. Both Nath and Digvijaya Singh received their political grooming from the same guru Arjun Singh.

They have been at loggerhead at times, even gunning for each other. But, whenever challenged by an ‘outsider’, they tended to close ranks.

This is what happened last summer as Digvijaya Singh worked the subterranean world of realpolitik and helped Nath become the president of the Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee.

The high command, of course, preferred a collective leadership, rather than putting all its eggs in Nath’s basket. It made Jyotiraditya Scindia the campaign committee chief of the party.

Factional politics is in the genes of the party that had once harboured communists, capitalists, Hindus, Muslims and socialists all under one roof. The warring factions unite only when the party high command cracks the whip.

It was here that Singh smelled an opportunity. With the party high command failing to untangle the knotty leadership issue in Madhya Pradesh, Singh carved out a niche role for himself.

He bestowed upon himself the status of “Fevicol” to unite the fragmented party.

He tried to assuage the apprehensions of other factions: “I’m not a contender for the chief minister’s post.”

What helped him in the task of “coordination” was that he is the only one among the top three of the Madhya Pradesh Congress — Nath, Scindia and Singh — to know the state as the palm of his hand, thanks to the party organisation he helped nurture during the BJP regime in the early-’90s.

The network of party workers that he had assiduously built up as a 45-year-old Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee president travelling constantly and living out of a suitcase for nearly two years helped him in this task.

As the Congress failed to achieve the magic figure for forming the government on its own, Digvijaya Singh’s networking skills helped in bringing the Independent MLAs aboard ship.

Again, as the Scindia group staked its claim to chief ministership, Singh threw in his lot with Nath, bringing on board various other groups, such as Arun Yadav, Suresh Pachouri and Ajay Singh.

That clinched the deal in Nath’s favour, who was, in any case, always the front-runner.

So, it was only natural that Singh would emerge powerful in the Nath administration. Let us wait and watch how long the present bonhomie continues.

DB Post 29 December 2018

Continue reading “Digvijaya: Phoenix rises from the ashes”

Niyogi: Disclosures during the last supper


First Print 23 Dec 18


In the afternoon of 28 September 1991, the then BJP Chief Minister of MP, Sunderlal Patwa, called a press conference at Vallabh Bhavan, the seat of power at Bhopal, to announce the sensational murder of Radical Left labour leader Shankar Guha Niyogi.

Niyogi was sleeping at his union office that also doubled as his residence at Bhilai, now in Chhattisgarh, when assassins pumped bullets in him through an open window of the ground floor bedroom.

The sensational killing of the towering Marxist leader, renowned for his widespread influence and reformist ideas, sent shockwaves throughout the State.

At the time of his murder Niyogi was leading a nine-month old strike in many industrial units of Bhilai for proper implementation of the labour laws.

The prolonged agitation brought the Leftwing leader in sharp conflict with the industrialists who suffered losses amounting to billions of rupee.

The Rightwing Government of the day sided with the industry and tried to extern him from the area but the High Court came to Niyogi’s rescue.

As Niyogi had been constantly complaining about threat to his life – he had even given two letters to the police giving details of the conspiracy to kill him –the assassination put the Government in the dock.

Hence Patwa summoned the reporters to brief them and announce a reward on the killers. I was not at the press conference. I was in a train that I had boarded at Bhilai that afternoon to return to Bhopal.

I was with Niyogi just four hours before his murder. I had invited him for dinner to the hotel I was staying at Bhilai. It proved to be Niyogi’s last supper. Continue reading “Niyogi: Disclosures during the last supper”

नियोगी हत्याकांड : क़त्ल के पहले और क़त्ल के बाद

Prajatantra 23 Dec 18

Shankar Guha Niyogi: The Last Supper


नियोगी-हत्याकांड मेरे कैरियर की उन चुनिन्दा घटनाओं में से है जब एक खबरनवीस खुद खबर बन जाता है.

सितम्बर  के आखिरी हफ्ते में मैं एक स्टोरी के सिलसिले में बस्तर गया था. मेरे साथ फोटो पत्रकार प्रशांत पंजियार भी थे. लौटते में हम भिलाई गए जहाँ शंकर गुहा नियोगी के आन्दोलन की वजह से नौ महीने से कई बड़े कारखाने बंद थे.

दिन में नियोगी से मुलाक़ात के बाद उस दिन हम रायपुर के पास पिकेडली होटल में रुक गए. अगले दिन प्रशांत को दिल्ली का जहाज पकड़ना था और मुझे भोपाल की ट्रेन.

नियोगी उन लोगों में थे जिनसे काम के सिलसिले मुलाकातें कब मित्रता में बदल गयी पता ही नहीं चला. उनसे मेरी पहली मुलाकात 1977 में रायपुर जेल में हुई थी। Continue reading “नियोगी हत्याकांड : क़त्ल के पहले और क़त्ल के बाद”

Why Congress lost badly in Vindhya

DB Post 22 Dec 18


The figures are worrisome for both the BJP and the Congress.

A detailed analysis of the Madhya Pradesh Assembly election results reveals that, if the Congress had cobbled a pre-poll seat-sharing alliance with the other Opposition parties, it would have been in a position to bag at least 155 seats out of 230.

The anti-BJP alliance would have walked away with a clear two-thirds majority. And the BJP’s tally would have shrunk to a measly 75.

It is true that the Congress improved its performance by increasing its vote share by four per cent, winning 114 Vidhan Sabha constituencies. But it is also true that it fell two seats short of absolute majority.

The Congress’s gain was the BJP’s loss. Anti-incumbency against the 15-year-old BJP government led to the ruling party losing four per cent of the vote share. It could win only 109 seats.

The Congress made impressive gains in all geographic sub-regions of the state, including the BJP citadel of Malwa-Nimar. But it suffered badly in the Vindhya region, where its seats shrank from 12 to 6.

This was the only region where the BJP gained this time. Its tally improved from 16 to 24 in Vindhya.

Even the Leader of the Opposition, Ajay Singh, lost in what was thought to be his family borough of Churhat; and so did his cousin, Deputy Speaker Rajendra Singh.

Most analysts rightly blame the Congress’s poor performance in Vindhya for missing the magic figure of 116. Why did that happen? More importantly, how could the BJP improve its tally in this particular region?

An analysis of the constituencywise results reveals that the Congress lost as many as 17 seats in Vindhya due to anti-BJP votes getting split between Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Gondwana party and Samajwadi Party (SP). Had these parties been able to reach a pre-poll understanding, they would have bagged at least 23 out of 30 seats, causing a near-rout of the BJP in that region.

It was not only in the Vindhya region that the BSP, SP and Gondwana party candidates damaged the Congress’s prospects. A similar trend was observed in several other parts of the state, particularly in the areas bordering Uttar Pradesh the bastion of the BSP and SP.

The Congress lost altogether 34 seats in Madhya Pradesh due to a split of the anti-BJP votes. For instance, Congress candidate from Ater Hemant Katare lost to the BJP’s Arvind Bhadoriya, who was defeated twice from that constituency in the past, only because the BSP cut into the anti-BJP votes.

The BSP, SP and Gondwana party got only 3 seats in the state. But, together, they polled more than eight per cent combined votes. That is what stopped the Congress from reaching the midway mark.

The 2018 MP Assembly election results show that, for the past 15 years, it has become a ‘BJP versus the rest’ scenario. With the anti-BJP votes getting split, it worked to the ruling party’s advantage, just as, earlier, the Congress benefited from the TINA factor.

The Congress made spectacular gains in the tribal areas the main reason behind its victory. It managed to stage a comeback in the tribal areas, which had always been its bastion.

On the other hand, the BJP suffered due to the alienation of its upper caste support base over the SC/ST Act issue. It was reflected in the 1.42 per cent votes being cast in favour of NOTA. Political analysts say the BJP lost at least 11 seats due to NOTA.

The fragmented mandate has a direct bearing on the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. If the present trend continues, the BJP will lose only 11 of the 29 Lok Sabha seats to the Congress.

In 2014, riding on the Modi wave, it had bagged 27 constituencies in MP.

But that scenario will change radically if the Congress enters into a seat-sharing alliance with the other Opposition parties.
There are already indications of informal parleys taking place among the non-BJP parties. That is what helped the Congress form a government in MP this time, with unconditional support extended by the BSP and the SP.

At the same time, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav have indicated their displeasure with the Congress by keeping away from Kamal Nath’s swearing-in ceremony. But that is seen more as a prelude to hard bargaining over seat sharing in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere.

But, in case a non-BJP alliance does not take place, the Congress will suffer again. Let us keep in mind that, in the Assembly elections, the BJP may have bagged fewer seats, but its vote share was slightly more compared to that of the Congress.

That is a danger signal for the Congress!

DB Post 22 December 2018


Meeting CMs in bedrooms and washrooms

First Print 16 Dec 2018



In my long career as a journalist I have met nearly two dozen chief ministers in various states of the country. But there was no one like Bhairon Singh Shekawat, the former chief minister of Rajasthan.

My first meeting with Shekhawat, who later on became the vice president of India, will remain etched in my memory forever.

It was early 90s. I had landed in Jaipur in connection with a story about the BJP-ruled states in the country. I sought an appointment with the chief minister. I was asked to come at 8.30 to his official residence for the interview and also join him for breakfast.

On the appointed day and time I was outside the CM House in Jaipur’s Civil Lines locality. I was a little apprehensive as my taxi entered its gates.

In my experience, security personnel did not like a vehicle with commercial number plate. But the couple of lazy-looking policemen simply waved the car as I told them that I had an appointment with the CM.

This was the first surprise. I was based at Bhopal, where, as India Today correspondent, I had to deal with Sunderal Patwa as CM. He was a tough nut, not easily accessible even to his own partymen.

Often my requests for appointments materialized long after the concerned story had appeared in the print. Meeting a chief minister was such a hassle — going through elaborate security and a maze of maddening bureaucracy.

As I entered the gates, I found an office complex on the right side. I went looking for a staff member to inform Shekhawat that I had arrived. But it was quite early, I guess and most office rooms were locked.

I spotted a couple of employees in a room and told them about the appointment. They simply asked me to proceed towards the sprawling bungalow.

This was the second surprise. Till now I had not been frisked, I had not been asked for identity papers of any sort, I was not even questioned about whether I really had an appointment with the CM.

As I stood on the deserted veranda of the bungalow, I thought someone would soon take me to Shekhawat. But there was not a soul in sight.

After waiting for a couple of minutes I knocked at the doors of the first room and entered. It turned out to be the drawing room, but totally deserted. I returned to the veranda.

Soon I spotted a busy-looking domestic and he turned out to be well-informed, like most domestics. He directed me towards one of the rooms.

I thought I had been directed towards a visitor’s room where the CM would meet me. But the third, and final surprise of the day, awaited me as I opened its half-ajar doors. Continue reading “Meeting CMs in bedrooms and washrooms”

बेडरूम और बाथरूम में मुख्यमंत्रियों से मुलाक़ात

Prajatantra 16 Dec 2018

Meeting CMs in their bedroom and washrooms


यह किस्सा भैरों बाबा के बारे में है. मतलब अपने भैरों सिंह शेखावत, जो अरसे तक राजस्थान के मुख्य मंत्री रहे और बाद में भारत के उपराष्ट्रपति बने. भाजपा के कद्दावर नेताओं में से एक. उनके जैसे राजनेता बिरले होते हैं.

वे भले भाजपा के नेता थे, पर उनके दोस्त अपनी पार्टी में कम और दूसरी पार्टियों में ज्यादा थे. यारबाज आदमी थे. आम लोगों के लिए सर्व सुलभ. लोगों से उनका जीवंत संपर्क किसी भी जमीनी नेता के लिए रश्क का विषय हो सकता है.

अख़बारनवीसी की अपनी लम्बी पारी के दौरान मैं विभिन्न राज्य के दर्ज़नों मुख्य मंत्रियों से मिल चुका हूँ. पर भैरों बाबा जैसा दूसरा कोई नहीं मिला, कभी भी. उनसे पहली मुलाक़ात हमेशा याद रहेगी. Continue reading “बेडरूम और बाथरूम में मुख्यमंत्रियों से मुलाक़ात”

The kingmaker becomes the king

DB Post 15 Dec 18



When Kamal Nath was appointed the minister of state for environment in 1991, one of his first acts was to quit smoking. “This is my contribution to environment,” he told me then, with a smile.

He had a hard time keeping up that promise at the age of 44. Travelling with him soon after that, I noticed him popping up nicotine-laced chewing gums to ward off the craving. But he never succumbed. 

Nath is known to take up every task entrusted to him with single-minded pursuit. 

Just imagine him landing in the wilderness of rural Chhindwara in 1980 a 33-year-old young man from a prosperous business family, an alumnus of the elite Doon School, a product of Delhi’s upper class five-star culture, a buddy of Sanjay Gandhi, the most powerful man in the country.  Continue reading “The kingmaker becomes the king”

A bottle of Old Monk and the mystery of midnight tryst


For me, Kushabhau Thakre, the former BJP president, would always remain the embodiment of all that is good in the RSS. The man who built the BJP from a stretch in MP was known for his Spartan lifestyle. Like most RSS wholetimers, he was a bachelor. 

When I first met him in early 80s, he used to live in a small room that opened on a noisy street in a building that housed the BJP office in old Bhopal. That small room served as his bedroom, office, visitor’s room, dining and guest room. 

The furniture conisted of a wooden cot, a couple of chairs and an earthen pitcher (ghada) for drinking water. He used to share a table fan with his neighbour, Kailash Sarang, the office secretary, whose family would use it whenever Thakre did not need it. 

Some time he would invite me for lunch to that room. The food, a very simple affair, came in a thali from Sarang’s house. This was the life style of a man who could make or unmake a chief minister.

Hence, my eyes nearly popped out when I met Eknath Gore, a Sangh parivar activist, at Bhopal that winter morning in the early 90s. I had gone to meet ex-CM VK Sakhlecha at his office at Nisarga hotel in Bhopal’s MP Nagar area. 

Continue reading “A bottle of Old Monk and the mystery of midnight tryst”

ओल्ड मोंक की बोतल और आधी रात की मुलाक़ात


Prajatantra 9 Dec 18

A bottle of Old Monk and the midnight tryst


जब भी मैं आरएसएस के बारे में सोचता हूँ तो भाजपा के भूतपूर्व अध्यक्ष कुशाभाऊ ठाकरे की छवि आंखों के सामने आ जाती है.

सभ्रांत किसान जैसे दिखने वाले ठाकरे अपनी तपस्वी जैसी जीवन शैली के लिए जाने जाते थे. संघ के ज्यादातर प्रचारकों की तरह ठाकरे भी आजीवन कुंवारे रहे.

अस्सी के दशक की शुरुआत में जब मेरी उनसे पहली मुलाक़ात हुई तो वे पुराने भोपाल के सोमवारा इलाके में पार्टी ऑफिस के नीचे एक कमरे में रहते थे.

कमरे के एक कोने में एक तख़्त पर उनका बिस्तर था, एक मेज थी और आगंतुकों के लिए चंद कुर्सियां. एक घड़ा भी था, जिससे निकालकर आप पानी पी सकते थे.

वह छोटा कमरा उनका शयन कक्ष था, ड्राइंग रूम था, अध्ययन कक्ष था, डाइनिंग रूम था और गेस्ट रूम था.

कभी-कभार जब वे लंच पर मुझे आमंत्रित करते तो बगल के हिस्से में रहने वाले कार्यालय मंत्री कैलाश सारंग के घर से थाली आ जाती थी.

पहले तो सीलिंग फैन भी नहीं था. एक ही टेबल फैन था जिसे सारंगजी का परिवार इस्तेमाल करता था और कभी कोई आगंतुक आ जाये तो उसकी हवा ठाकरेजी की तरफ मोड दी जाती थी.

यह उस प्रभावशाली नेता की जीवन शैली थी जो मुख्यमंत्री बनाने या हटाने की ताकत रखता था.

इसलिए जब संघ परिवार के एक चमकते हुए सितारे, एकनाथ गोरे से भोपाल में मेरी पहली मुलाक़ात हुई तो मैं सकते में आ गया. Continue reading “ओल्ड मोंक की बोतल और आधी रात की मुलाक़ात”

What is Chhindwara model of development?

DB Post 8 Dec 18



During my recent visit to Chhindwara, after a gap of almost two decades, I was happily surprised to find the dusty, backward town in the backyard of god’s own forgotten country transformed into a glittering, prosperous urban growth centre.

When I visited the town in the early 80s, it was difficult to find a lodge that would supply a bucket of hot water for bath. Now it boasts of a number of decent hotels and resorts. I remember going around frantically for a typewriter ribbon. Now there are swanky shopping malls.

Not long ago I had to send a car all the way from Bhopal to Chhindwara for my visiting editor because AC cabs were not available there. Today the town has huge showrooms of all major auto brands. The friendly neighbourhood goldsmith shops have given way to dazzling outlets of jewellers, reeking of prosperity. You need money floating around the town to sustain this kind of private enterprise.

The town has developed good infrastructure. It is surrounded by a 60 km four-lane ring road that could be the envy of any major city. If a district town has Standard Chartered Bank, along with all nationalised and private banks, what does that signify? Money. Chhindwara remains essentially a small town. But it is a decent small town with modern amenities. I was impressed. Continue reading “What is Chhindwara model of development?”