Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh, an old-timer of the party, is known for speaking his mind unrestrainedly and pushing certain agendas. But what makes him very important in the party is that many of his “controversial statements” eventually turn out to be the party line. For instance, when Union home minister P. Chidambaram articulated a hardline approach to tackling the Maoist insurgency, Digvijay stirred a storm by criticising him. On another occasion, he highlighted the issue of saffron terror; now, it’s being investigated seriously by security agencies. Similarly, he was always dismissive of the anti-corruption movement spearheaded by civil society; now, the Congress too has taken that line. Full text of the interview excerpts from which appear in the print magazine:
Why are you always walking into controversy?
I fail to understand why do you say that. Whatever I have said I stand by it and I have also said everything out of conviction. And in time what I have said has been been proved correct. So if speaking the truth is controversial then I will do it again and again.
The question this raises is: How does Digvijay Singh have the authority to say what he likes?
I have never deviated from the Congress ideology. I just follow the Congress line.
Yet you seem to be above the party and some of your colleagues are uneasy with what you say. So do you think your role is to push a line the party is itself uneasy about.
I push and say what is the party line as I understand it. My understanding may be wrong. But no one has told me the party line is different from what I say
You recently said that Sonia Gandhi did pull you up for what you had said about Home Minister P. Chidambaram.
That was for a personal remark calling him intellectually arrogant. Not for an ideological line. I have not been pulled up for any ideological position.
A year ago when I interviewed you there was a very clear division in the party between you and Mr Chidambaram. The home minister was pushing a harder line against Maoists and was quite vague on the issue of saffron terror. You advocated a development approach for Maoists and kept harping on the need to investigate saffron terror. Today, the HM has apparently changed tack on both issues and is now in tune with your line on both issues?
Isn't that a good sign (smiles). We have been opposing these extremists elements in both the Hindu and Muslim communities forom the beginning. The Congress is a liberal party. We have been fighting fundamentalists even before independence when we fought the Muslim League on one side and the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha on the other side.
Have you ever regretted the statements you have made that stir controversies. Or the timing of your statements such as the one after the recent Bombay blasts?
Have you carefully seen what I actually said? When you are asked do you think RSS is also involved in this I said I don't know but at the moment you can't rule out any possibility. Then I am asked do you have any evidence of RSS involvement. I say not in this case but there are six other cases where I have evidence of involvement of Sangh activists.
There seem to be a pattern. You say something, it becomes controversial, you clarify.
For instance this byte was given to a channel but the Indian Express reported that I have said RSS is involved. What can I say if the media does this.
But you say things that are different from the spokespersons of the party...
The spokespersons did not say that I was wrong.
Besides the Chidambaran remark has there been any other occasion where Mrs Gandhi has told you off?
Not not at all. I have not been scolded for anything else I have said (laughs).
You have often said that Rahul Gandhi is the PM candidate.
He has the capacity, the ability and the political instinct to become a good PM. I have been saying this for many years. But there is no vacancy at the moment, Manmohan Singh is doing quite well. And at the same time I don't think Mr Gandhi is ready himself.
Before we come to Rahul as PM, you face a critical election in UP. Why can't Rahul be the chief ministerial candidate? After all that is one way the party could give a fight to Mayawati and revive in the state...
Rahul Gandhi is not the leader of a state, he is a national leader. UP is his home state and he is extremely sensitive to the conditions there. And he has a dream for UP.
But the Congress party organisation is very weak so isn't there an argument for projecting him against Mayawati?
The Congress never projects a chief minister. We leave the decision to elected MLAs. But have no doubt that Rahul will be leading the campaign but he will not be projected as the chief minister of one state.
The Land Acquisition issue is big for Rahul. Is he happy with the draft that the government has presented?
He has certain ideas and most of his ideas have been incorporated in the present draft so let us see.
So will Rahul's agitation against land acquisition be put on hold?
The agitation was against the way it was done in UP. Farmers had been given thousand rupees per square metre and Mayawati had collected Rs 4000 to 10000 per sq mtr as a bribe. If some of that had been given to farmers there would have been no agitation. And now Supreme Court has done away with those acquisitions so now I think Mayawati should compensate the builders. Either give this money to the builders or to the farmers so that the poor flat owners who have lost out because of this are compensated.
What is your view of the Lokpal agitation now?
First Anna Hazare and his team must realise we have a constitution and a parliament. That right cannot be taken away by self appointed five people. They have a right to put their point across and they should be grateful to the government of India that they were put in a drafting committee. That's something that has never been done before and it is unprecedented. Now it is the the right of the parliament to enact a law. They can put their point across to a standing committee even now. Let the parliament decide if PM and judiciary have to be brought into the ambit.
Do you think politicians are unfairly in jail on corruption charges. You have expressed sympathy for some?
What I'm saying is that the principle of jurisprudence is that innocent till proved guilty. This media trial should be avoided. The second issue is once investigation is over and chargesheet framed and presented in court what is the need to keep such persons in jail.
What do you think is going on with the Apex court?
I would not like to comment on judiciary. But I think the judiciary must consider granting bail to these people.
What about Muslim boys who are picked up after each blast. I found there are no all India figures, no human rights report, no survey by the government, on what happens to them. What about bail or release for them?
Please do a research on how many convictions there have been for bomb blasts and terrorism in last ten years. I think you will find that mostly the people who are picked up are not convicted. Why doesn't Outlook give you this task of research of putting together the figure of boys arrested and hardly any convictions.
Is there a mentor or a role model you follow?
Arjun Singhji was my mentor and role model. I have learnt a lot from him. And then off course Rajiv Gandhi gave me an opportunity to become Pradesh Congress President at the age of 30.
Some people say you are the most important "Muslim" leader in the Congress.
I am not a leader of any community. I am basically a modern liberal who has taken it upon himself to fight fundamentalism of all colours. We can't hand over our future generation to mad people like this--please notice that the Norwegian killer Breivik has praised Hindu fundamentalists.
But do you think the way you articulate some points does not appeal to the upwardly mobile Indian who does not like to get into this communal identity issue.
Unfortunately this young mobile youth is not aware of the evils of fundamentalism. They have to be educated and informed. Look what has happened to Pakistan. Zia ul Haq brought fundamentalist elements into the system and today see what is happening there, the liberals and democrats can do nothing to stop the tide of fundamentalism. Would any of our young generation like to see India going the Pakistan way? It is frightening that people like Colonel Purohit infiltrated the army and could plan to manufacture and plant bombs to disturb communal harmony in this country. And they were closely aligned to the Sangh ideology that I would blame.
Would you like to ban the RSS?
No no. The minute you ban one organisation they become another organisation. See the LeT is banned but Hafez Sayed has set up another organisation. That is why I believe it is necessary to hit hard at all writing, speeches and actions that promote fanatic religious thought. Look at Subramaniam Swamy's article in DNA. I think it is seditious and the government must intervene on this. I think the proposed communal violence bill must take into account all such speeches and writings and make it a criminal offence.
Do you think this is the right time for the communal violence bill?
Absolutely the right time. We need stronger laws against people who disturb communal harmony. But then again in the communal violence bill let us not only give one group the protection. In a communal clash by one group on the other whether it is a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian, all have to get equal protection under the law. You can't only target one majority community. You cannot exclude any communal group from protection in this bill.
The current draft prepared by the NAC proposes special protection for minorities, both religious and linguistic.
That is not adequate. For example if there is one cluster that is Muslim dominated and they attack a smaller Hindu cluster, that should also be covered in the communal violence bill.
But the argument is that historically the police have been anti minorities
The police just have to be punished if they act on communal lines. But you cannot exclude the majority community from protection. I have put my point across to some people involved in drafting the bill and I will put it across in the party also and I am going to put my point across to Mrs Gandhi also. What is most important I think is the poisoning of the mind of children and youth by educational institutions where communal thoughts begin. I think the bill should look at hate speech, syllabus, writings rather than taking action post communal clashes. Prevention is always better than cure.
You recently called the BJP a party of nachaniyas (dancing girls).
(Laughs) No no. The point I wanted to make is that Mahatma Gandhi's samadhi is no place for people to go and dance. the BJP may be very happy with the people of that ideology who claimed Gandhiji's life but at the same time it is no place to behave that way. They were also agitating that day against the police action on Baba Ramdev's followers. So what was there to be so happy and t start dancing there?
Are you trying for a tie-up with Ajit Singh's party in UP?
My brief is we can't have any alliance with SP, BSP or BJP. Other than that any alliance is possible.
After the UP polls, what will Digvijay Singh do next?
In 2013 November I complete 10 years of my oath that I will not contest any election. After that if the party wants me to contest, Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha I will.
Would you then join any future government?
My preference is to work in the party if I am given a choice.
When will Rahul be ready?
That's for him to decide.
Do you have any clues since you are supposed to be close to him?
That's wrong information. It's not correct that I am extremely close to him. He has a mind of his own. I only interact with him once in 15 days or a month or two months. Our discussion is only confined to Uttar Pradesh, not beyond.
Excerpts from this interview appear in print