Digvijay Singh’s yatra: A pilgrim’s progress in Madhya Pradesh

Narmada yatra by an elderly Congress politician is the talking point in Madhya Pradesh. A BJP leader explains the unease by pointing to the thin dividing line between the personal and the political

Digvijay Singh’s yatra: A pilgrim’s progress in Madhya Pradesh

Rohit Gupta

A personal, spiritual pilgrimage of a 71-year-old man should normally cause little worry to the Madhya Pradesh government, its Chief Minister or the ruling BJP. But indications are that the 3,330-kilometre-long pilgrimage on foot by former Chief Minister Digvijay Singh has made BJP strategists sit up and take notice.

The reason has largely to do with the parallel people are drawing to a similar yatra undertaken by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan. It had cost the state Rs 40 Crore and Chauhan used helicopters and cars to cross the Narmada at various points. It was the pilgrimage by a ruler.

In contrast, the Congress veteran stays in villages, eats with villagers and is doing the yatra as a commoner. Although he refuses to discuss ‘politics’, people point out that he is not averse to discussing issues related to the Narmada river, development and the problems faced by people.

Digvijay Singh, most observers believe, is over-the-hill and no longer a force to reckon with even in the Indian National Congress. With the focus on the young, he has little elbow room to make his presence felt in the party, say the pundits. And he was of course conspicuous by his absence at the recent Congress Plenary Session in the capital.

What is, however, worrying BJP leaders is the large number of people who are turning up to meet him on the way. People from all walks of life, including some bureaucrats, have greeted him and BJP old-guard say that Singh continues to have better rapport with a section of the bureaucrats than Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan.

But accompanied by his wife Amrita Rai and several hundred well-wishers, he is passing through 110 legislative constituencies in the state which is heading towards an election. BJP leader and a former Chief Minister Babulal Gaur believes that the ‘Narmada Yatra’ has refurbished Singh’s image and that direct connect with villagers of around 3000 villages across 110 constituencies will yield political dividends. Not just Congress workers but people owing allegiance to the RSS and the BJP are also calling on him, Gaur points out.

During Singh’s visit to Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s hometown of Vidisha, he was welcomed by Shivraj’s younger brother Narendra Singh Tomar.

Getty Images
Getty Images
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s ‘Narmada Seva Yatra’ was a more ostentatious and high-profile pilgrimage undertaken at the expense of the state

At a time when no BJP leader is going to the ground, the yatra assumes significance and is expected to benefit the Congress,” claims Bhopal-based journalist Raghvendra Singh.

Congress leader Jitu Patwari is enthused. “This yatra is indirectly exposing BJP’s corruption,” he told National Herald. Several hundred crores of Rupees, he pointed out, had been spent on the Narmada river and much of it has gone into the pockets of politicians and contractors.

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Published: 23 Mar 2018, 6:57 PM