MP: DIGGI RAJA IS BACK
Digvijaya Singh’s Narmada pilgrimage is over. What will be his next play?
On April 9, Madhya Pradesh’s most closely watched pilgrim, Digvijaya Singh, concluded the Narmada parikrama, an arduous, 3,300 km pilgrimage circumambulating the course of the river. Accompanied by wife Amrita Rai and some 200 followers, it took them over six months to reach Barmaan Ghat in Narsinghpur district. True to his promise, he refused to make any political comment during the pilgrimage. But now that it’s over, all eyes—in both the Congress and BJP—are keenly watching the wily politician’s next move.
But before that, the former chief minister’s return is expected to bring some clarity to the continuing dilemma within the Congress on whether it should have a chief ministerial face for the assembly polls, expected around October this year. Notably, while Jyotiraditya Scindia has supported the declaration of a CM candidate, Digvijaya is averse to such a move. The latter’s presence is also expected to accentuate differences between the factions within the state Congress. Scindia’s absence at the bhandara (feast) at Barmaan ghat is already a talking point in the party. Digvijaya’s declaration that he is not interested in becoming CM has only served to draw out halfadozen other hopefuls from his own camp.
For the BJP, Diggi raja, as he is popularly known, represents the only Congress leader with a panMP connect and deep links within his party organisation. So although saffron leaders remain
publicly dismissive, they are privately wary of his ability to raise state issues—like illegal mining, pollution and the failed Narmada plantation drives.
And while Digvijaya insists it was a “personal endeavour”, analysts say the arduous pilgrimage could also rid him of the ‘antiHindu’ tag he’s been stuck with for some time now. In fact, it may well be interpreted as a ‘return to the faith’. This could prove worrisome for the BJP, the dais at Barmaan ghat on April 9—a sea of saffron and yellow teeming with seers and spiritual gurus—looked more like a Sangh parivar event.
A day before he finished, the Hindu Mahasabha’s Swami Chakrapani and Kalki Peethadheeshwar Pramod Krishnan praised Digvijaya for the parikrama. Openly critical of BJP governments at the Centre and the state, the sadhus also asked him to undertake a ‘Ganga yatra’ to save the holy river.
The bhandara also had some other interesting guests, including former Union minister and BJP MP Prahlad Patel and his brother Jalam Singh Patel, a minister in the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government. Union minister Uma Bharti wrote expressing her inability to attend but promised her “broth er” that she would meet him soon. Notably, both Prahlad Patel and Bharti are not on the best of terms with CM Chouhan.
Former Union minister Kamal Nath was there too, and criticised the state government for its failed Narmada plantation drives, while reminding people that they had just six months to decide the future of MP. Shankaracharya Swaroopanand Saraswati, the seer who blessed the pilgrimage at its start last September, made pointed comparisons between Digvijaya’s parikrama and the Chouhan’s “helicopter yatra”.
“Congress workers are looking at the leaders for direction before the upcoming polls,” says exMLA Brajendra Singh Rathore, who had come all the way from Tikamgarh. He said a lot of “pending decisions” (owing to Digvijaya’s unavailability) must now be addressed on priority.
Significantly, on his 3,300 km hike, Digvijaya Singh connected with voters in some 110 of MP’s 230 assembly constituencies. And he is now looking to complete the ‘political’ journey. “I will offer prayers at Omkareshwar after which I’ll be in Delhi. I will return to MP in the next few days to meet senior party leaders, beginning with those in Indore,” he said.
THE BJP SHOULD WORRY, THE DAIS AT BARMAAN GHAT WAS A SEA OF SAFFRON
LONG WALK Digvijaya Singh with wife Amrita at Barmaan Ghat at the conclusion of the Narmada yatra