Digvi­jaya Singh’s Nar­mada pil­grim­age is over. What will be his next play?

India Today - - STATES - By Rahul Noronha

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.



LONG WALK Digvi­jaya Singh with wife Am­rita at Barmaan Ghat at the con­clu­sion of the Nar­mada ya­tra

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