Digvijaya Singh was chief minister of Madhya Pradesh for two terms until 2003
Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, a two-time Madhya Pradesh chief minister, has largely stayed out of the intense campaign in the state where the party sees its best chance to return to power in years. He has finally spelt out the reason.
"I kept out of the campaign because I was asked to not interfere too much in Madhya Pradesh. So I kept out of the two campaigns. Whatever I could, whatever I was asked to do, I did it," Digvijaya Singh, 71, said on NDTV's The Countdown.
Asked why the party had been out of power in the heartland state for 15 years, Mr Singh first cited 60 lakh bogus voters. Then he said the Congress could not put up any "real challenge" as an opposition party for five years.
Why? "People were more engaged in their own areas," he said. But this time, he emphasized, "I can assure you, I have never seen the Congress as united as this time."
He added: "We are all fighting together against the BJP".
Last month, Mr Singh was heard saying in a video that he would not campaign or make speeches as they would harm his party. "I have one job. No campaigning, no speeches. My speeches dent Congress votes, so I don't go," he was heard telling workers.
Once one of Congress' most trusted and canny political leaders, Mr Singh took a backseat as Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia led the party's campaign for the election held today.
Earlier, he had completed a six-month "Narmada Yatra" walking over 3,000 km along the banks of the holy river. As the campaign spurred speculation that he was aiming for the top job again, Mr Singh clarified that he was not a chief ministerial candidate.
Mr Singh was chief minister of Madhya Pradesh for two terms until in 2003, the Congress lost power and was reduced to 38 seats in the 230-member assembly. He vowed then to not contest elections or interfere in state politics for a decade. That self-imposed exile ended in 2013, but he soon landed in trouble over a series of controversial statements and his strategy failure in Goa, where the BJP formed government despite finishing second.
The Congress was seen to be facing an easier election in Madhya Pradesh this time because of perceived anti-incumbency sentiment against the BJP government of three-time chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, but the party's campaign was blighted by speculation about its divided state leadership.
The results of elections in Madhya Pradesh and four other states will be announced on December 11.