“Out of all the MPs retiring from the Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh, if there is anyone who must come (back) to the Rajya Sabha, it is Mayawati ji,” says Digvijaya Singh, while talking about Opposition parties working together in the wake of the Uttar Pradesh election debacle.
Singh's admission that the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader needs to be supported in playing a national role is the first such by a Congress leader.
In April 2018, 10 of the 31 Rajya Sabha seats from UP will be up for election. The BJP can easily win eight of the 10 seats, one will go to the Samajwadi Party, but the 10th seat will be up for grabs.
The SP, the Congress and the BSP can come together for Mayawati's re-election to the Upper House by pooling together their votes. This would indicate that the SP and the Congress want her to play a role on the national stage. That is why this will be the first major test of Opposition unity in the run up to the general election of 2019.
In a freewheeling interview with Catch, the Congress general secretary argues that Opposition leaders would have to swallow their egos and come together to challenge the BJP's ideology.
“In politics, a person who has an ego is always at a disadvantage. We must understand the ground realities and lock up our egos at home,” he says.
Singh says the BJP needs to be challenged on the ideological front, as well as for its pro-rich and anti-Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes policies. “We have to convince people that Hindutva is just a mask. Their ultimate goal is to capture power and help the 'haves' against the 'have-nots',” he says.
Singh argues that with the appointment of “a rabid monk”, Yogi Adityanath, as the Chief Minister of UP, Modi's 'development' agenda stands exposed.
“Does the Mahant in anyway fit into the development model of Gujarat, which Modi successfully marketed globally? He is even going against the essence of (the ideology of) Guru Gorakhnath, who had started his math (temple) as a reaction to the hegemony of the upper caste Brahmins,” he argues.
Prime Minister Modi's campaign strategy in election after election has become clear, he points out. “He talks of development up to about three days before the election. (And) in the last three days, he brings in communal elements into his campaign… This is done according to a planned strategy of the BJP.”
Today, he says, “The entire country has been communally charged by a sustained campaign on the ground, off the ground and on social media. And the ultimate result that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh had been working towards showed results in 2014 (general election) and now (in the UP election).”
The challenges posed by the BJP and the RSS, he claims, can only be met through Gandhian secularism, based on equal respect for all religions and equal accommodation of all religions. “The counter-narrative (to the BJP) is the secularism of Mahatma Gandhi.”
Apprehensive of the idea of a Grand Alliance, Singh points out how a similar attempt against Indira Gandhi had come to naught in 1971. “We should be targeting the ideology instead, and the path the country is being taken on,” he argues.
Blaming his own party and other secular political parties for allowing things to come to such a pass, he says, secularism is all about promoting a modern and liberal mind and not about telling people how to dress, what to eat and whom to meet.
“Here is a great opportunity in adversity where the Congress party can bring the narrative back to Gandhian secularism,” he says with hope.
Watch the interview with Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh for all this and more.