Former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh is known as the “leader of opposition” within the Congress party. A political mentor of the PM-in-waiting, Rahul Gandhi and a trusted ally of Sonia Gandhi, Singh spoke to Zeenews.com’s Swati Chaturvedi on her show Kahiye Janab on a variety of issues ranging from inflation to cross-border trade between India and Pakistan.
Swati: Welcome to Kahiye Janab. Today, the country is facing crisis. But your government, which has been in power for almost seven-and-a-half years, is virtually silent on most issues. Why is the Prime Minister silent?
Digvijay Singh: Why are you saying so? The Prime Minister has so many times held press conferences. Sonia Gandhiji too has spoken on many issues. She has spoken out on many issues, on several occasions inside the Parliament too. You have also been reporting about Rahul Gandhi’s meetings a number of times.
Swati: You will agree that there are wide differences within the government over its functioning. Look at inflation. On the one hand, you come to power on the aam aadmi agenda, while on the other you raise petroleum prices. What has your government done so far on this issue?
Digvijay: Well, tell me about one government which did not contribute to the rising inflation? Petroleum prices are linked to the international crude prices. We have also done the same. This (fuel price reforms) is in line with NDA’s policy. They did not have the guts to implement this.
The NDA government too increased the kerosene prices, which is used by the poor people. They increased kerosene prices from Rs 3 to Rs 10 in a span of just six years, while we hiked it to Rs 12 from Rs 10 in seven years! Today, the Centre is doling out Rs 50,000-60,000 crores in subsidies.
Swati:What do you have to say about the Jammu and Kashmir crisis where the state government under Omar Abdullah is looking helpless?
Digvijay:People in J&K have participated in large numbers during elections in the past. Yes, there have been some failures and we accept that. The current generation there has not been through good times. Their frustration is reflecting in their actions. The government should take some confidence building measures in this time of crisis. The Centre had formed several committees, which have given a lot of recommendations.
The PoK-J&K cross-border trade should also re-start; jobs should be created for the unemployed; there are also demands to release elderly prisoners who are languishing in jails in the sate; the state and the Centre should take such measures to boost confidence in the populace.
Swati:Let’s turn to the Naxalism issue.
Digvijay: Look, even the Centre has supported many a time whatever I have said on the Naxalism issue.
Swati:If you were the home minister, would you have dealt with the J&K and Naxalism issues in a different manner?
Digvijay: Well, nobody has ever asked me to become the home minister. I am also interested in it. The current Home Minister is doing all that is necessary.
Swati:Why don’t you join the government?
Digvijay:Well, I had maintained that I won’t fight elections till November 2013. After that I will do whatever my party asks me to.
Swati:Don’t you think Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, after being in power for seven-and-a-half years, should contest election from any part of the country to get a legitimate entry (into the Parliament) through the Lok Sabha route?
Digvijay:The Prime Minister has a very good image at the international and national level and that is second to none. He has been elected to the Rajya Sabha also. Moreover, he has never said that he is a mass leader.
Swati:Do you think the recent hike in salaries of Members of Parliament is justified, considering the manner in which our MPs demanded the same?
Digvijay:Life of a politician is very uncertain. At least I think an MP’s salary should be at par with that of a person at the Secretary level.
Swati:You are always considered as the political mentor of Rahul Gandhi. Are you satisfied with Rahul Gandhi’s political journey so far?
Digvijay:He is quite talented. He has developed an image of a person who is talented, industrious and who has a soft-corner for the dalits and tribals.
Swati:Finally, do you think, as a magazine has put it, Rahul Gandhi is the best PM India has not had? Do you think the time has come for him to take over?
Digvijay: The time will come. Let him decide. Let the people decide. Well, I too am waiting for that day.