'We are aiming to form the govt in UP'
Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh talks to Kavita Chowdhury about his role as AICC in-charge of Uttar Pradesh in the run-up to the 2012 assembly polls.
As the All India Congress Committee in-charge of Uttar Pradesh which is going to polls in early 2012, what do you see as the party's strategy for the state, especially as it has so much at stake there?
Uttar Pradesh has been reeling under 21 years of misrule by the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party governments, and now the BSP again. With rampant corruption in the state, governance has taken a back seat and criminals are calling the shots. There are no new power plants.
Now, under the BSP, public sector companies are being sold to private sector at throwaway prices. There is a total lack of governance, with no law and order in the state. People are fed up of caste, communalism and corruption in politics. This is the right opportunity for the Congress to stage a major comeback.
I am confident that if we select candidates properly and have a targeted election campaign, we can make it. We are aiming to form the government.
Image: Digvijay Singh
'Anna Hazare is not a cause of worry'
But what gives you the confidence, going by the 2007 results when the Congress won only 22 seats and was a runner-up in only a few seats?
Year 2007 was a disaster. This time, however, our preparation is intensive. We have been preparing since the 2009 general elections. We will be going in for mass contact programmes. We have an intensive selection process and have already announced candidates for 135 seats. So, we are much better prepared this time and we hope to increase our figures several times over. Rahul Gandhi is going to be our chief campaigner.
After the by-polls in Hisar where Team Anna campaigned against the Congress party, is Anna Hazare a cause of worry for the Congress in the UP polls?
Anna Hazare is not a cause of worry. The winning candidate Kuldeep Bishnoi had himself said the 'Anna effect' did not contribute to his victory. As for us, the Congress is sincere in getting a strong Lok Pal Bill passed in the winter session itself. This is the crux of the matter.
When Anna broke his fast, the government agreed to three of his demands -- establishment of Lok Ayuktas in every state, a Citizens' charter and lower bureaucracy to be brought under Lok Pal. These were promised by the government.
In my letters to Anna, I made it clear that at the time, the issue of inclusion of the prime minister, the judiciary or member of Parliament's conduct -- none of these was raised. So, when we bring in the Bill, we shall have done what we promised to do.
Image: Anna Hazare
'I do not want to cross swords with Anna'
But the Congress party has distanced itself from your letters?
The letters were sent in my personal capacity as Digvijay Singh. It is between Anna and I. I do not want to cross swords with him. I would like to point out issues to Anna as I am of the view that he has been kept in the dark. It is an irony that anyone who questions the Jan Lok Pal Bill is labelled corrupt. Even if the most corrupt person was to wear a 'Main Hoon Anna' cap, then he is okay.
The Congress in UP seems to be beset with problems. Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh, who you are in talks with for the upcoming polls, is posing to be worrisome.
We are in discussions with the RLD as of now. We are talking of working out an alliance for the state polls. Yes, a cabinet berth for the RLD chief cannot be ruled out.
According to you, what are the challenges facing the Congress today?
The biggest challenges are particularly in states such as UP, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh. In these three big states, the party has to apply its mind. You see, national general elections nowadays have become more state-specific. So, even for Parliament elections, it is the same.
Image: A protest rally against corruption
'Where was the political will of Advaniji?'
In terms of challenges facing the United Progressive Alliance, it seems to be of late marked by weak governance, unearthing of scams.
But all these scams are of UPA-I -- whether it is the 2G spectrum issue or the Commonwealth Games. In fact, there is no scam of UPA-II. It is because of the Right to Information that all these have become transparent. On one side, the Congress has successfully dealt with all those who had corruption charges against them.
But the BJP didn't register cases against Jaya Jaitley and Bangaru Laxman, and they talk of a lack of political will. Where was the political will of Advaniji when Bangaru Laxman was caught on camera taking bribes? We have done everything for transparency.
We strengthened the money laundering Act, which led to Madhu Koda being prosecuted. This government has not lacked political will to take action against the corrupt.
The Congress has always gone for open bidding; it was the National Democratic Alliance government which changed the rules. In 2G spectrum, we could not auction. We went for an open bidding in 3G. The BJP and the NDA never went in for auction, nobody is questioning that.
But the UPA government now increasingly seems to be at war with itself, senior ministers pitted against each other...
You can charge us with that -- we have not been able to project the right kind of facts. I don't think we have indulged in rampant corruption. We have not even spared bureaucrats, politicians and companies.
Image: L K Advani
'I had praised Chidambaram's political integrity'
You are known as someone who doesn't believe in mincing his words. You have openly criticised Home Minister P Chidambaram's anti-Naxal strategy and described him as "intellectually arrogant". Recently, in your blog, you seem to have again indicted the policies of the home ministry. What are your relations with Chidambaram now?
They are absolutely fine. That time (in the write-up critiquing the anti-Naxal strategy), it was a comment from one friend to another. In that piece, if you note, I had praised his political integrity and his competence, but it is the media that chooses to focus only on the "intellectually arrogant" remark.
In your home state Madhya Pradesh, where you have been chief minister twice, the Congress seems to be in total disarray. And, now you appear to have foisted Kanti Lal Bhuria as Pradesh Congress chief in the state.
He is not foisted. He has not lost a single election since 1980. He is a political man and, above all, a tribal.
He has recently formed his committee and there are factions in the MPCC and he will gradually resolve these issues. In fact, he's a four-term MP and four-term MLA, as well. He has been a minister both in the state cabinet and at the Centre. Find me another person like him. We will form the government there.
Image: Home Minister P Chidambaram