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BJP 'Copied' Ladli Behna Yojana From Congress, is Anti-Sanatana: Digvijaya Singh

"There is more dissatisfaction among people towards the BJP this time around," said Digvijaya Singh.

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“The anti-incumbency against the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government [in 2018] wasn’t as much as it is now. And the Congress is better prepared this time around,” said former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister and Rajya Sabha MP Digvijaya Singh as he sat down with The Quint for a detailed interview ahead of the polling in Madhya Pradesh on 17 November. 

The state is expected to witness a neck-and-neck between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with the latter facing anti-incumbency after they overturned the Kamal Nath-led Congress government in 2020. 

From the prospects of the Congress in the upcoming elections to whether the BJP stands to gain from the Ladli Behna Yojana, Singh covered a range of topics. Here are the edited excerpts from the interview:

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What is different about the 2023 polls as compared to 2018?

Kamal Nath became the state Congress President in May [2018], and elections happened in November. We were not fully prepared during the 2018 elections. The anti-incumbency against Shivraj Singh Chouhan in 2018, too, wasn't as much as it is now. In the past five years, Kamal Nath has tried to reach the grassroots level. For the first time, booth-level agents have been prepared for voter list review.

What is Digvijaya Singh's role in this election? How should the public view it?

My role has always been about contact, dialogue, coordination, consensus, and positive thinking. Throughout the year, I maintain contact and keep the dialogue going, and it continues even today – whether there's an election or not.

I was asked to oversee the preparations in 66 seats where the Congress has consistently lost. There has been fair selection in choosing candidates. Of the total seats, 85-90% of the selection has been accurate, barring a few exceptions.

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How will you reconcile with those angry over the ticket distribution?

In 1985, I was elected the Pradesh Congress President, and since then, I've had good relations with Congress workers. Even if someone criticises me, I still maintain my relationship with them. I've never denied help to anyone based on their words for me. I don't have an ego problem, and that's why I have survived so far.

Media reports and discussions say that the BJP in Madhya Pradesh has managed to bounce back in the past few months. Is that the impact of the Ladli Behna Yojana?

The Ladli Behna Yojana is not the BJP's scheme. The Congress has implemented similar schemes in Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh. The BJP has merely copy-pasted the scheme.

Since 2003, the BJP government has not kept its election promises. Shivraj Singh Chouhan made over 21,000 announcements during his tenure. This time, he has been exposed.

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So, what's the impact of the Ladli Behna Yojana? How does the Congress plan to counter it?

The Ladli Behna Yojana has made some impact. We plan to counter it by offering Rs 1,500 to women and providing gas cylinders for Rs 450. 

In healthcare, we have a plan in Rajasthan where we provide up to Rs 25 lakh for treatment to alleviate the financial burden on families facing serious illnesses like cancer, liver transplants, heart transplants, and bypass surgeries. The Ayushman Bharat Scheme hasn't been as beneficial. Madhya Pradesh Congress will fully implement this plan and provide free treatment of up to 25 lakh to every family.

How will the state manage the finances since the state already has a huge debt of over Rs 3.5 lakh crore?

We will cut any unnecessary expenses, especially on ads. Look at the advertising budget. For example, in the Seekho Kamao Yojana [a skill development scheme], the advertising companies benefited more than the target beneficiaries – the youth.

How will you counter the impact of dissatisfied leaders who were denied tickets as well as the presence of other parties like the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, and the Aam Aadmi Party?

Madhya Pradesh is a bipolar state. The fight is between the BJP and the Congress. Our ideology is focused on the economic upliftment of the poor, small shopkeepers, and minorities. The BJP has a different ideology – it is divisive. The BJP is, in fact, anti-Sanatana Dharma.

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What is the Congress' stance on the politics of religion?

The Congress' stance is in line with what is in the Indian Constitution. Every individual has the right and freedom to practise their religion, and there should be no interference in this.

How does the Congress plan to overcome the challenges in the Lok Sabha elections?

I always have doubts about EVM [electronic voting machines]. Anything that has a software is hackable. I can give you an example. In my own constituency, Raghogarh, where the Congress never loses, Jyotiraditya Scindia won by a margin of 46,000 votes in the 2018 Assembly election, and we lost the Lok Sabha within five months by 42,000 votes.

How can such a shift happen? There is something wrong somewhere, and this time we will investigate. We are prepared with measures to check.

How many seats is the Congress likely to win in the state elections?

I would say around 130+ at this point.

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