Digvijaya Singh’s wings have been clipped. The voluble Congress general secretary was divested of the charge of Goa and Karnataka on Saturday. But he will continue to look after the party’s affairs in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi gave the task of looking after Goa to A Chella Kumar while poll-bound Karnataka was assigned to former Youth Congress chief KC Venugopal.
In a related development, Sonia Gandhi removed Madhusudan Mistry as general secretary and appointed him to the Central Organisational Election Authority, which is overseeing the ongoing organisational elections. Mistry, once known to be close to Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, was the incharge of Uttar Pradesh until being replaced by Ghulam Nabi Azad just months before the Assembly election earlier this year.
While Mistry had already been marginalised, the process of sidelining Singh was set in motion on Saturday. Like Mistry, Singh was once a member of Rahul Gandhi’s core team. Although he no longer enjoyed the vice president’s confidence, the former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh continued to be entrusted with the responsibility of overseeing the party’s affairs in key states in deference to his seniority and political acumen. It was for the same reason that he was given a seat in the Rajya Sabha.
Singh’s fate was apparently sealed when he failed to help the Congress form the government in Goa even though it had emerged as the single largest party in the recent Assembly election.
The Congress had won 17 seats in the 40-members Assembly to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s 13. However, the BJP acted quickly to cobble together a coalition with the Maharashtravadi Gomantak Party, the Goa Forward Party and independent legislators, and laid claim to form the government.
Singh, as the official in charge of Goa, faced flak for not reaching out to the regional parties in time even though he knew that he was up against an aggressive adversary.
Since the Goa fiasco, there had been speculation that Singh would lose charge of Karnataka. Having suffered humiliating defeats in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, it has become imperative for the Congress to retain Karnataka. As it is, the Congress’s geographical footprint has shrunk. The party is in power in Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Meghalaya, Mizoram and the Union Territory of Puducherry. In addition, it is a junior partner in Nitish Kumar’s government in Bihar.
So, apart from Punjab, Karnataka is now the only major state ruled by the Congress. Though reports suggest that a resurgent BJP is set to dethrone it in next year’s assembly election, the party’s victories in recent bye-polls and the infighting in the BJP’s state unit has led the Congress to believe that all is not lost.
Given the significance of the Karnataka election, the party’s state unit had urged the central leadership to change the general secretary in charge of its affairs there. Sonia Gandhi’s task became easier after the Goa fiasco though Singh had lost her confidence long before that. Partly that was because of his penchant for making controversial remarks. There have been innumerable instances when the party was forced to dissociate itself from Singh’s statements. At one point, it was believed he had the leadership’s sanction to speak out of turn and go against the official line to enable the party to gauge the public response to a particular situation.
It may have been true in some cases but more often than not, he brought trouble to the party. Singh publicly disagreed with then home minister P Chidambaram in 2011 by demanding a judicial probe into the Batla House encounter, which he claimed was staged. The party distanced itself from his statement. Singh has also been vocal about the involvement of Hindu extremists in terror activities. Recently, he stirred up another controversy by remarking that civilians in Kashmir were being targeted by not only the militants but the security forces as well. After the recent attack on the Central Reserve Police Force in Sukma, he had accused Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh of colluding with the Maoists. His statements are immediately picked up by the BJP to paint the Congress as “anti-national” and “anti-army”, pushing the party on the defensive.
Still, having gone so far, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi may find it difficult to completely sideline Singh by stripping him of all responsibilities, not least because he is well networked in the party. Although he has been out of state politics for over a decade, Singh still enjoys substantial support among the cadres in his home state. It is widely acknowledged in Congress circles that although Singh is no longer in a position to win back Madhya Pradesh, he has the capability to stir up trouble if he is denied a major say in the party’s affairs there or if the state unit is handed over to a leader who does not belong to his camp.