There is a tough fight between the Congress candidate Abhishek Manu Singhvi and BJP candidate Harsha Mahajan amid speculations of cross-voting as polling for the lone Rajya Sabha seat in Himachal Pradesh is underway on Tuesday.
Umang Singhar, the Leader of Opposition in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly, has been tasked with the herculean job of not just cornering the ruling BJP, but also strengthening, reorganizing and reuniting the Congress for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. One of the youngest MLAs in the House, Singhar (50) is also expected to lead the party that saw a crushing defeat at the hands of the saffron party in the recent assembly polls.
The Congress MLA from the Gandhwani assembly is an influential tribal leader and is considered close to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. Singhar has been an MLA from the Gandhwani seat four times in a row since 2008. He was also the cabinet minister for forests in the 15-month Congress government under Kamal Nath, from 2018 to 2020.
The Statesman’s Gaurav Chandra spoke to the leader of opposition about the tasks he has to undertake, the challenges faced by the Congress in Madhya Pradesh, and the opportu- nities that the future might hold for the grand old party.
Q: The next assembly session is scheduled to begin from Feb- ruary 7. What are your prepara- tions and how do you plan to corner the ruling BJP govern- ment?
A: Despite the BJP’s tall claims of ful- filling its electoral promises, I strongly believe that the government will not be able to do so. Our focus is on cor- nering the government on all such unfulfilled assurances, be it increas- ing the financial assistance of ‘Laadli Behna Yojana’ from Rs 1,250 to Rs 3,000 per month, providing Rs 3,100 support price to farmers for paddy, Rs 2,700 support price for wheat, employment to youths and many oth- ers. We will question the government on all such promises.
The BJP government has already removed the names of 2 lakh Laadli Behna Yojana beneficiaries and they might remove more names next month. If the party is really commit- ted to the welfare of women, it should make a law, like the MNREGA, to ensure benefits of schemes to the community. But the BJP’s strategy has been to make false promises, create facades and mislead voters through propaganda to win the elections. They always try to deviate the voters’ atten- tion from the real issues.
Q: You are the youngest Leader of Opposition till date in Madhya Pradesh. How are you going to fulfill the big and cru- cial responsibility?
A: Every post, whether small or big, comes with responsibility and chal- lenges. I have been facing challenges and accepting them continuously for the past many years. In the same way, I have accepted this responsibility and will work diligently.
Q: How are you going to strengthen, reorganize and reunite the Congress in Madhya Pradesh after the disappointment in the assembly polls of 2023 and the upcoming Lok Sabha polls in a few months from now?
A: We are working concertedly to strengthen the party organization in the state. I am regularly touring the state to reorganize the party up to the sector level. We have already appoint- ed in-charge leaders in many areas. All the workers of the Congress in MP are enthusiastic and rejuvenated. They can sense a new hope and confi- dence for the Lok Sabha polls. I am certain that all such efforts will bear positive results, which would be visi- ble in the general election this year.
Q: How much would the Ram Temple consecration influ- ence the outcome of the Lok Sabha polls in your opinion?
A: I am very clear that every individual has the right to worship the religion and deity of his/her choice at the place of his/her choice. Why is the BJP making it appear that going to Ayod- hya is compulsory? Everyone is free to pay obeisance in their homes too, if they wish. But the BJP is only focusing on misleading the people from real issues in the name of religion. The burning issues of price rise, unem- ployment, increasing debt on the country, are not being discussed at all… the BJP is infusing the intoxicant of religion into the minds of people to deceive them from thinking about the real issues.
Q: What are the prepara- tions for Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Nyaya Yatra which would also travel to Madhya Pradesh?
A: There is tremendous enthusiasm in our state regarding the yatra. We have been touring to oversee and manage the preparations at all places from where the yatra will pass. This yatra is Gandhi’s journey for justice to the common people and the downtrod- den. Youth are unemployed, more than 75 per cent of the start-ups have shut down and farmers are not get- ting MSP (minimum support price). I remember Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised to double the income of farmers by 2022, but noth- ing happened, and 2024 is here. The ‘nyay yatra’ is Rahul Gandhi’s selfless and laudable endeavour to focus on many such issues.
Q: Some untoward incidents occurred during the Nyay Yatra in Assam. Do you have any apprehensions for MP too?
A: I hope no such incident occurs in Madhya Pradesh. If that happens, I can only say that the BJP is indulging in “Hitlershahi”.
Q: What is your view on the use of electronic voting machines (EVM) in elections, particularly in light of doubts cast by some sen- ior Congress leaders on the cred- ibility of these machines?
A: I have also been focusing on the issue of EVMs for a long time and it is my strong opinion that every voter must have the right to know where his/her vote is going. More than any political party, members of the civil society must come forward and demand scrutiny. Voters do not get to know where their vote has gone and what the VVPAT does. It is imperative that elections must be conducted in a fair manner. Why does the BJP insist on using EVMs when questions are being raised against the voting method? Why not ballot papers? Does the BJP want to win through EVMs? How is the BJP claiming 400 plus seats in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls when they have no pres- ence in south India?
Q: Presently, the Congress has only one out of 29 Lok Sabha seats in Madhya Pradesh. What will be your strategy to improve this number?
A: We will fight with all our might on all the 29 seats. We are specially focus- ing on the 10-15 seats where the Con- gress party is strong in the state.