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