Congress' Digvijaya Singh to take 6-month-long journey along Narmada river in Madhya Pradesh (file)
For the six-month-long journey walking around the Narmada river that Congress leader Digivijaya Singh plans starting next Saturday, he has requested the Madhya Pradesh government for an ambulance, extra security and a mobile toilet. The BJP government of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan has sanctioned the ambulance and the security.
Mr Singh has said his 3400 km walk is not political and he will have "no Congress flags, no slogans, no posters, no banners." The Congress general secretary said he has been planning the walk - he calls it a parikrama or circumambulation of the Narmada - since the 1990s. His timing, however, is sweet. Assembly elections will be held in Madhya Pradesh next year, the first since Digvijaya Singh's self-imposed 10-year exile from electoral politics ended. In his walk, Mr Singh will cover about 100 of the state's 230 assembly segments.
"I had this vision in 1998, when I was Chief Minister staying on the banks of river Narmada...that I should be doing the Narmada Parikrama," Mr Singh told NDTV, adding that he had made a "commitment to myself" then.
"It has to nothing to do with politics, nothing to do with timing," he asserted, calling it "a sabbatical, yes, to some extent, in the sense that I'll be away from very active politics for about six months.
Digvijaya Singh was the last Congress chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. In 2003, he was ousted by the BJP, which has ruled the state since, and now union minister Uma Bharti became Chief Minister. Stunned by the defeat, Digvijaya Singh had vowed then that he would not contest an election for the next 10 years. He became a member of the Rajya Sabha in 2014, 11 years later.
The 70-year-old's new move is being seen as a signal that he is back in the race for the Congress' candidate for Madhya Pradesh chief minister, with the party set to plan its campaign for the state and who will lead it. It is largely considered a toss-up between former minister and senior party leader Kamal Nath and young Congress leader, Jyotiraditya Scindia.
Mr Singh said he has informed his party leaders about his yatra and will support whoever they pick to lead the Madhya Pradesh campaign. "I have committed to my leadership I have no choices, it is for the leadership to decide... The decision to do it now, I had taken it 4-5 months back," he said.
Senior Congress leader Raj Babbar said, "When he said he won't do politics for 10 years. He is a man of his word and for 10 years didn't do politics. If he has himself said that this is not a political yatra, then it won't be."
Digvijaya Singh was Chief Minister for 10 years before the Congress lost power to the BJP, but his resume since is thin on political achievements. This year he failed to ensure a Congress government in Goa, of which he had charge, despite the party winning the most seats in the assembly election. Mr Singh was outwitted by the BJP, which, despite winning fewer seats, moved quickly to ally with smaller regional parties to form government.
The Congress removed him as leader in charge of not only Goa, but also Karnataka, another state where elections will be held next year.
Mr Singh has also put his party in an embarrassing position numerous times with unbridled tweets and comments. Recently the Congress had to distance itself after Mr Singh shared an abusive meme against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Torn apart in widespread criticism, Digvijaya Singh denies his trip is linked to the backlash. "The backlash has been there for the last 13 years so there is nothing new about it. But whatever I've said I've stood by it and I've proved that what I've said is based on facts not fiction... I've never withdrawn my statements," the Congressman said.