By Amulya Ganguli
Digvijay Singh may have described himself as a loose cannon in a TV interview, but the manner in which he persistently takes a contrarian line vis-à-vis the government can give the impression that he is dancing to someone else’s tune. Uma Bharati’s belief that he is Rahul Gandhi’s “spare tyre” is probably not far off the mark, for it is clear that the former Madhya Pradesh chief minister (also a poster boy of the Congress before he lost to the BJP in the state) is positioning himself on the right side of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
It is not only his repeated statements in favour of Rahul Gandhi becoming the prime minister which confirms this assessment. There are other instances, too, of his obsequious penchant for serving the family’s interests. The most notable of these was his comment that there was no need to waste time over Warren Anderson’s escape from India when the country was quite exercised over the issue of the former Union Carbide chief’s extradition for the Bhopal gas tragedy. Digvijay Singh maintained, however, that instead of talking of bringing him to justice in India, the need of the hour was to provide adequate relief to the victims.
His outpouring of concern for the victims and lack of interest in Anderson’s fate were not the outcome of a quirky attitude but a well-thought-out point of view. Singh was well aware that too close a scrutiny of Anderson’s escape will turn the spotlight on Rajiv Gandhi’s culpability, something which a faithful retainer of the party’s first family could not allow. It is the same sense of loyalty which made him criticize an income-tax tribunal’s questioning of Ottavio Quottrocchi’s tax liabilities.
In the last few weeks, this sense of devotion has found expression in his reiteration of support for Rahul Gandhi’s candidature for the prime minister’s post. What is odd is that even after being ticked off by his own party for his comments a few weeks ago that Rahul was mature enough and had the requisite sound political instincts to replace Manmohan Singh, he repeated the comment a day after the prime minister’s meeting with editors of regional newspapers. Why he did so is unclear unless he wanted to show that as a senior general secretary of the party, he was above the spokespersons who countered his earlier suggestion.
Or, perhaps, he was encouraged by the willingness expressed by Manmohan Singh at the press conference to step down as soon as the Congress “makes up its mind” on his successor since the prime minister was all for “younger people” to take over. Considering that Manmohan Singh also said that so far he has not received “any contrary view from the Congress high command” that he should go, Digvijay Singh probably calculated that by pressing his case yet again for Rahul as his “personal wish”, he might persuade the party to come to a quick decision.
What he may have also thought was that Manmohan Singh at present is at his weakest. At two successive interactions with the media, he has had to deny that he is a lame duck. He did so in February and again last Wednesday. It does not help anyone’s reputation when he has to say more than once that he is not on a weak wicket. Besides, the prime minister has been criticized for mishandling the civil society’s agitation by swinging from one extreme to another. On one day he dispatched four senior ministers to meet Baba Ramdev and on the next he drove him out of Delhi. Similarly, Anna Hazare and Co was accommodated in a joint committee on the Lokpal bill only to be described later by the Congress working committee as a “motley group”.
Given these vacillations, Digvijay Singh probably believes that the time is now ripe for him to play the card of his life which may see him acquire a high post in the Union cabinet under Rahul in a few year’s time. That he is not a great admirer of the present government has always been known. If the other detractor, Mani Shankar Aiyar, attacked the government for its neo-liberal economic line, Digvijay Singh fired his first missiles at P. Chidambaram for his Operation Green Hunt against the Maoists. He also called the home minister “intellectually arrogant” at a time when the BJP was singing his praises for his anti-Maoist drive.
What the young prince himself thinks of his ardent supporter is not known. But no one can go on in this sycophantic vein unless he is sure that there is no serious objection to his protestations within the party. The problem, however, with such acolytes is that their excessive adulation can damage the object of his admiration by showing him up as someone in need of such external prop-ups. Besides, it reinforces the perception of the Congress as a feudal zamindari. (IPA Service)