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New Delhi: “The Congress is fundamentally a modern, liberal, left-of-centre party…whose principal aim is to protect India’s essential characteristic of unity in diversity,” senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP Digvijaya Singh had said, summing up the party’s credentials and positioning it in contrast to the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in a recent interview with The Wire.
He had added that the Udaipur Declaration, adopted in the recently-concluded Chintan Shivir, resolved to take this precise message to the people of India, and that such clarity will help the party’s future endeavours in planning, organising, and strategising – something which will be evident in the pan-India Bharat Jodo Yatra beginning October 2, 2022.
Singh’s remarks are significant, given that many senior Congress party leaders have often been under scrutiny for allegedly pandering to Hindutva sentiments.
This issue was debated at the Chintan Shivir too. Various North Indian Congress leaders spoke against having a uniform political line and were in favour of designing strategies according to state-specific realities. However, the South Indian leaders staunchly opposed them in favour of a strong, secular ideological crux.
Following his alleged failure to conjure up a post-poll alliance in Goa in 2017, – that had prevented the Congress from forming government despite emerging as the single largest party – Singh was denied any significant responsibility in the party.
However, he was recently reinstated into the party’s central leadership by interim president Sonia Gandhi, in prominent offices. Now, as one of the senior-most members of the newly-constituted Political Affairs Group and as part of the team that will oversee the Bharat Jodo Yatra, Singh is in the thick of things.
Recently, when poll strategist Prashant Kishor declined a position in the Congress’s election management committee, Singh was one leader who took him on by saying that the celebrated strategist didn’t offer anything that “he didn’t know”.
When asked about why the Grand Old Party has had to suffer a string of electoral losses despite leaders such as himself claiming to understand Kishor’s strategies, Singh said that the party’s current problem is “organisational weaknesses” that have resulted in ineffective campaigns in front of the BJP.
He said that the Udaipur Declaration addressed some of those concerns and will continue to do that in the coming months.
The party’s current priority, Singh said, is to organise the Bharat Jodo Yatra in a cogent way. “The Yatra will cover 4,000 km from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. We are discussing the routes now. But our aim is to establish jan sampark or mass contact, a factor which we lacked in the last few years,” he said.
On a question about the leadership crisis in the Congress, he said that much of the criticism that the party has had to face has not been fair as only the Congress “conducts internal elections”.
“Tell me, which other party holds elections to choose party leaders? Yet, only the Congress has to face such questions. The Congress is the most democratic party in India,” Singh said.
He said that the Congress’s focus is currently on re-establishing itself as a party of India’s founding fathers, like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel and the like, who bridged the Hindu-Muslim divisions in the aftermath of partition.
“The Congress gave shape to the very soul of India; that is, communal harmony, unity in diversity, in our constitution. We proved the Britishers wrong, who thought we will never be able to administer a democratic nation,” he said.
“It is clear that today’s politics is a fight between ideologies. We are asking if politics should be socially-divisive. Should society be divided on lines of religion, caste, and language? The Bharat Jodo Yatra will reach out to people with the message of communal harmony,” he continued, asserting that the Congress was against all forms of fundamentalist forces.
“Congress has never compromised with Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists. We will speak as much against those Muslims who provoke religious frenzy as Hindu fundamentalists. We are quite clear on it,” he said.
What is happening now, Singh said, is that Hindutva forces have been attempting to keep religious tensions alive to gain a political advantage from such situations. “We will explain to the people that India has never seen religious wars. We have only seen political wars in our past, but never on the lines of faith,” he said.
“Modi ji’s speciality is to announce the decision first, and think about it later,” Singh said. “For instance, he announced demonetisation without having enough new currency notes to deal with the human disaster. Same happened with the poorly implemented GST, which he had opposed as chief minister of Gujarat.”
“Look at the outcome of demonetsiation,” Singh continued. “It was said that it would do away with the problem of counterfeit currency. When demonetisation was announced, there were around 17.5 lakh crore fake notes, now the number has increased to 28 lakh crore.”
Singh said that the ‘Modi Model’ of governance hinges upon “outsourcing” and nothing else. “Can you imagine that in Gujarat, even police constables are contractual employees? He is trying to do the same at the Centre with the Agnipath scheme, tarnishing the image of our highly professional armed forces.”
On a question about several important leaders jumping the Congress ship in the last few years, Singh said, “The Congress party was never a cadre-based party. It was born in a movement and continued as a movement. All sorts of people, from Nehru to C. Rajagopalachari to Purushottam Das Tandon, were in the Congress.”
“Yet, we have never compromised on our motto to deliver pro-poor governance. The Congress believes in rights-based development and decentralisation of governance on the lines of Gandhi’s gram swaraj. And we will remain that in our core,” Singh said.