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Lok Sabha elections 2019- Battle for Bhopal:In Bhopal, Digvijaya Singh’s method vs Pragya Thakur’s appeal

For his part, Digvijaya Singh has taken the gauntlet on a terrain the Congress couldn’t regain after losing it three decades ago, in 1989.

lok sabha elections Updated: May 10, 2019 07:37 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
Bhopal
lok sabha elections 2019,lok sabha elections,lok sabha
The competing quests for the reservoir of votes are of the Congress’s Digvijaya Singh and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s Hindutva face, Pragya Thakur Singh, who prefers the suffix of Sadhvi. (HT File)

This city of lakes is now witness to tussles of ideology and political survival. The competing quests for the reservoir of votes are of the Congress’s Digvijaya Singh and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s Hindutva face, Pragya Thakur Singh, who prefers the suffix of Sadhvi.

Thakur, an accused in the 2008 Malegaon bomb blast case that killed six people, is out on bail. As the challenger to Digvijaya Singh, the ongoing case did not stand in the way of her being up for this prestigious fight — either from the BJP standpoint or that of its ideological cradle, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).

Talk to hard-core BJP supporters and they’d say the “Sadhvi” symbolised Hindutva’s battle against forces that vilified it as bhagwa aatank (saffron terror). For his part, Digvijaya Singh has taken the gauntlet on a terrain the Congress couldn’t regain after losing it three decades ago, in 1989. The outcome in Bhopal will tell whether the two-time chief minister of Madhya Pradesh can raise his stock in the party’s national hierarchy.

Irrespective of his ostensibly diminished position in Delhi, the battle-hardened leader continues to be a force in the party’s MP set-up; an important pivot around which moves the Congress wheel.

His BJP rivals use that as a handle to blast the Kamal Nath government, recalling the “poor” development record that had cost Digvijaya Singh the office in 2003. The narrative was in full bloom at BJP chief Amit Shah’s road show in the city; speaker after speaker attacked the Nath regime as the harbinger of the “black days” reminiscent of Singh’s rule.

The anatomy of the fight that has built up shows the protagonists pitted against two antagonists: Digvajaya fighting Thakur and her prop, the RSS; Thakur fending off the Congress along with internal BJP rumblings.

In private conversations, the saffron old guard find in her the makings of another Uma Bharti or the MP version of Yogi Adityanath. In that event, what will be the future of the likes of Shivraj Singh Chouhan, they wonder.

Before Wednesday’s road show, a top BJP functionary arrived here from Delhi to mollify resentful sections.

A semblance of conciliation was evident from the photo-op at the temple known as Curfew Mata Mandir, from where Shah began the campaign flanked by Thakur and Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

The weirdly-named temple is located at the Peer Chowk that’s often the ignition point for communal ferment in Old Bhopal. There, Hindus and Muslims do business and live cheek by jowl in a maze of narrow lanes. The venue’s choice was in sync with the appeal that fetched Thakur the BJP ticket. Speeches delivered at the event to men in saffron turbans and women in branded BJP sarees were replete with insinuations and allegations directed at Digvijaya Singh: “He defended and nurtured SIMI; called Osama bin Laden Osamaji and sought proof of surgical strikes.”

Of Bhopal’s eight assembly segments, five were won by the BJP and three by the Congress in the November 2018 polls. A BJP insider told me the plan was to focus on the Bairasia, Huzur and Govindpura seats to rack up a lead Digvijaya Singh would’ve problems overcoming.

I motored down to two of these constituencies and couldn’t agree more about the saffron traction there. Even at shops where the Congress’s “haath” (hand) was on display, the vote was for the BJP’s “phool” (lotus).

The BJP insider admitted, nevertheless, that the Congress’s was a robust fight through deft management and outreach to BJP dissidents.

“Digvijaya is a seasoned player,” he admitted. Using his somewhat exaggerated image of being the “de facto CM,” he’s offering quid pro quo arrangements to sitting legislators across both parties, this person said. The word is: “I’ll help you later, if you help me now.”

Amid such closet efforts, the Congress leader has kept up through visits to local temples, the optics he patented during his 3300-km Narmada Parikrama (circumambulation of Narmada) in 2017-18. To circumvent the polarisation the BJP wants and is fomenting, he has avoided getting into any verbal spat with the fire-spewing Thakur.

Digvijaya Singh told me as much in an interview: “I don’t speak against my opponents in elections. I draw my own line rather than erasing someone else’s line.”

The gains of such tactics are evident.

At the seat the BJP won by 3.5 lakh votes in 2014, nobody says the Congress is losing. The perception is of a close fight with the question: whose line shall Bhopal toe on May 12?

First Published: May 10, 2019 07:13 IST

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