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Digvijaya to NDTV: No regrets for comments on Chidambaram

Digvijaya to NDTV: No regrets for comments on Chidambaram
New Delhi There may be finally some consensus among the Chief Ministers of Naxal-affected states on an anti- Maoist battleplan but within the Congress, the issue continues to create sharp political rumblings.

Congress General Secretary Digvijaya Singh has told NDTV that he had no regrets for going public with his criticism of Home Minister P Chidambaram on the Naxal issue.

In a column in the Economic times, Digvijaya Singh had accused Chidambaram of being intellectually arrogant and adopting a counterproductive policy. Speaking exclusively to NDTV, Digvijaya Singh says he stands by all the comments he made even today, and feels no need to retract them.

Here are excerpts from that exclusive interview with NDTV's Group Editor, Barkha Dutt.

Barkha Dutt: You said in your opening remarks that your position on how to tackle Maoist insurgency the same as the Party...

Digvijaya Singh: Yes

Barkha Dutt: Yet when you went public with your questioning of the home ministry's approach, there was a clear divergence in your mind on how the Home Ministry was approaching and you believed the Party wanted it approached. Is that correct?

Digvijaya Singh: Well, I had a chat with the Home Minister. As I mentioned we have been close friends, we are still close friends...

Barkha Dutt: Even though you called him 'intellectually arrogant'...

Digvijaya Singh: (Laughs) I made that remark, and as a friend I went and apologised also, so don't feel bad about it...

Barkha Dutt: But you believed it...

Digvijaya Singh:
I feel he has to be more receptive to ideas. What I feel... there are four issues. The Indian Forests Act has to be ammended. Number two, the Mining Regulation Act has to be ammended, the Land Acquisition Act has to be ammended and the fourth is, the Panchayat extension scheduled areas is to be strongly implemented. These are the four pro-poor, tribal issues which should be looked at.

Barkha Dutt:
When you brought this up with Mr. Chidambaram...

Digvijaya Singh: He said Digvijaya, I cannot handle this you should talk to the Prime Minister. I said, as a Home Minister... a overall strategy to (combat) Naxalites... He thought I should be talking... I said you should take a holistic view, you are directly responsible.

Barkha Dutt: And he felt that wasn't his domain and you should raise it with the PM. But you were quoted, as recently as  this past week, saying that you do not regret the article in the Economic Times. You don't regret it?

Digvijaya Singh: Certainly not. I standby what I have written and it is as per the Congress policy.

Barkha Dutt: You also said you sounded out the right people before you wrote the article...

Digvijaya Singh:
No, I never said that.

Barkha Dutt: That's how the media reported...

Digvijaya Singh:
I never said that.

Barkha Dutt: Did you speak to anyone in the Congress before you wrote the article?

Digvijaya Singh: No, no I didn't.

Barkha Dutt:
  So when you say that you stand by what you wrote, many people would argue that perhaps Digvijaya Singh has a logical argument but he took it into the public domain. He personalised it by calling the Home Minister 'intellectually arrogant'. Could he have had a closed door meeting with Mr. Chidambaram instead...

Digvijaya Singh:
(Laughs) Well, I wouldn't like to comment on that.

Barkha Dutt:
Let me put it to you, while you may have very complex, very nuanced understanding of what is happening on the ground, there is a larger perception that Digvijaya Singh takes his battles public, that Digvijaya Singh is contrarian, that Digvijaya Singh is designing himself to be the 'chief dissenter' of the Congress party. Let's take this particular example, you believe you were reflecting your party's opinion but even your party at that time said these issues should be raised within the party fora. Even today you are saying you don't regret writing the article in the Economic Times. You don't believe you could have handled it differently, maybe at a closed door meeting, with the home minister, with other senior members of the Congress Party, with Sonia Gandhi, with the Prime Minister...

Digvijaya Singh: Well, PC... Home Minster Chidambaram, you know, he has always been calling me the 'opposition leader within the UPA'...

Barkha Dutt:
And do you see yourself as that?

Digvijaya Singh: No certainly not but I have been raising these issues at appropriate levels...

Barkha Dutt: Could you have done it differently, is what I am asking you? Could you have kept it within the party fora?

Digvijaya Singh:
Well,  there are perceptions to this issue.
 
Barkha Dutt: What do you feel?

Digvijaya Singh: I feel I did the right thing.

Barkha Dutt:
You did nothing wrong...

Digvijaya Singh: No, certainly not.
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