ICC general secretary Digvijaya Singh, who loomed large over party affairs as the in-charge of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana for over five years, was eased out of his responsibilities because he failed to revive the Congress ahead of the coming general and Assembly elections two years away. The former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister has been blamed for the near flop show of the Congress in these states in the last three years.
First, the Congress high command removed him as in-charge of Telangana this week and later he recused himself as the in-charge of Andhra Pradesh affairs. About giving up his charge of AP, he said that it was because he wanted to take a 3,500-km long padayatra over six months along the Narmada river. His Narmada Parikrama will be a non-political and spiritual event.
Singh’s removal as AICC general secretary in charge of the two Telugu speaking states might signal his marginalisation from active politics at the national level, as he enjoyed a great deal of power as in-charge of the combined state of Andhra Pradesh, on and off for well over a decade-and-a-half since 2004. Singh mostly had complete charge of AP when the Congress was in power between 2004 and 2014.
As he introduced a personalised style of politics over the years, those who were installed by him in the Pradesh Congress Committees (PCCs) in the two states are now feeling insecure and those who constantly complained against him to the high command are jubilant. According to sources, Digvijaya Singh has earned more enemies than friends in the two states in the last three years.
At one time in 2013, before the elections, dozens of senior Congress leaders, including ministers and legislators, used to hang around the lobbies of a star hotel owned by a Congress Rajya Sabha member, at Hyderabad’s Jubilee Hills for an audience with Digvijaya Singh who was in a position to decide the party candidates for the Assembly elections. Even the high command at the time gave him a free hand to decide on the party tickets.
This week, going by the mood of the Pradesh Congress Committee office bearers of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, both presently located in Hyderabad’s Gandhi Bhavan, the sacking of Singh in these two crucial strongholds of party ahead of the elections is a well-thought out move. Singh, who claims to be a loyalist of party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, seems to have lost the latter’s confidence.
Digvijaya Singh, who wielded clout in the AICC for long, was first removed as in-charge of Goa and then Karnataka in the last four months. For the first time, he was blamed for the Congress failure to form government in Goa even after the party emerged as the single largest party in the Assembly elections in March. Then, the BJP has seized the opportunity and formed the government in Goa.
In Karnataka, the Congress is ruling and the state unit is putting up a fight to retain power in the Assembly elections scheduled to be held early next year. However, there were large scale complaints against Singh’s style of functioning, which encouraged factionalism and dissidence within the government. According to a source in Bengaluru, even Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah complained to the high command against Digvijaya Singh.
Even after losing Goa and Karnataka, Digvijaya Singh did not change his style in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. He visited these states only once in the last four months, that too on the occasion of Rahul Gandhi’s visits. One senior Congress leader and a former MP from AP told this newspaper on Friday that Singh behaved as if he was the “Super CM” of AP, visiting it only when Rahul Gandhi visited the state.
The Congress high command was unhappy that Singh could not revive the party in AP, which accounts for 25 Lok Sabha seats, and where it drew a zero in 2014, and is unlikely to get any in the next elections. Digvijaya Singh was singularly blamed for not taking up any ground level agitations in AP on any of the issues concerning the people. “He only tweets from Delhi,” said an AP Congress leader.
Singh couldn’t get in touch with YSR Congress chief Jaganmohan Reddy in AP or field a candidate for the Nandyal Assembly byelection to be held on 23 August.
Same is the situation in Telangana. The Congress high command is still intrigued as to why the party lost Telangana, even after creating the state, and thus risking its prospects in the rest of AP. Of the 17 Lok Sabha seats in Telangana, the party won just two. One of those MPs defected to the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi. After Karnataka, Telangana is the only southern state where the Congress is strong enough to come to power on its own.
Several senior Congress leaders who spoke to this newspaper off-the-record said that Singh had failed to lead from the front in the party’s fight against the ruling TRS in Telangana. “His tweets in most cases landed us in trouble and his near total absence from the field demoralised us all. He visits this state barely once a year and mostly operates from Delhi,” said a former PCC president.
What angered the high command most was Digvijaya Singh’s failure to secure the open support of the All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) for the party-sponsored candidates for President and Vice-President elections recently. “Rahul Gandhi was surprised to know that there were no efforts from our side to woo AIMIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi in this regard,” said a former PCC president.
Moreover, Singh evoked protests and complaints over his alleged promises to several leaders in the faction-ridden Telangana unit of the Congress that they would be made the PCC president soon or be projected as the Chief Ministerial candidate for the next elections. This encouraged factionalism within the already weakened party, explained another former Rajya Sabha member.
However, Telangana PCC spokesman, Dr Shravan Dasoju defended the contribution of Digvijaya Singh in the last three years. He told The Sunday Guardian that Singh had followed decency and dignity in politics and had fought hard to keep all the groups united. “We always looked at him for insights into our party values and principles,” said Dr Dasoju.
However, many seniors are relieved that the new in-charges, R.C. Khuntia, AICC secretary and former Orissa MP, and Satish Jarkiholi, another AICC secretary and Karnataka MLA, would be within their reach and would work with them, shoulder-to-shoulder. “We don’t need any high profile in-charges, we want those who will mingle and work with us,” said another PCC spokesman.