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Why Digvijay Singh lost out on a Cabinet berth

By Renu Mittal in New Delhi
May 29, 2009 22:20 IST
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A day after the ministerial portfolios were announced, highly placed Congress sources say party General Secretary Digvijay Singh was all set to take the oath as a Cabinet minister on May 28.

However, his rivals scuttled the former Madhya Pradesh chief minister's chances, compelling the usually voluble politician to go incommunicado.

The Congress leadership was keen that Digvijay Singh contest the Lok Sabha election from Madhya Pradesh. But he declined, saying he had vowed to stay away from electoral politics for ten years after losing the Madhya Pradesh assembly election in 2003.

But once the Lok Sabha results -- which gave the Congress an unexpected win -- were declared, a senior leader claims Digvijay Singh changed his mind and was inclined towards a Cabinet ministership.

With Arjun Singh, his old rival from MP, out of the way, there was need for a Thakur face in the Manmohan Singh government. Anand Sharma had been promoted as a Cabinet minister on May 22, apparently to keep former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh out.

Thakur leaders like Chandreshkumari from Rajasthan, Ratna Singh, Jagdambika Pal and Sanjay Singh from Uttar Pradesh were also in the running for ministerial berths, but all of them eventually lost out.

Getting wind that Digvijay Singh was being mentioned as a Cabinet minister, his rivals provoked a revolt by Virbhadra Singh who threatened to quit the party if he was not made a minister.

Sources indicate some Himachal Pradesh Congress leaders also threatened to resign in protest against Virbhadra Singh's exclusion from the Union Cabinet. Strangely, even Shanta Kumar, the Bharatiya Janata Party leader from Himachal Pradesh, demanded his old rival's inclusion in the Cabinet.

Under pressure to accommodate a senior Thakur leader who had just won a Lok Sabha election, the leadership finally opted for Virbhadra Singh.

Digvijay Singh is said to be close to Rahul Gandhi, whose closest aides are Thakurs like Kanishka Singh and Jitender Singh Alwar.

Sources said Digvijay Singh wanted the rural development and panchayati raj portfolios which are known to be close to Rahul's heart. Though Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was also keen on inducting Digvijay Singh, Virbhadra Singh's revolt ended that gambit.

There is also a move to transfer former foreign secretary S K Singh, Kanishka Singh's father and the current Rajasthan governor, to Uttar Pradesh. UP Governor T R Rajeshwar will move to Rajasthan, sources say.

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Renu Mittal in New Delhi