Is the Congress' decision to field party veteran Digvijaya Singh from Bhopal, a BJP stronghold for over three decades, a bold political move or a suicidal mission? This is a question that political pundits are presently asking. The saffron party has been invincible in the constituency since 1989.
The controversial leader may have preferred to contest from his home turf of Rajgarh instead. In a constituency where the difference between the vote shares of the BJP and Congress is massive, the decision comes as a surprise. The contest would be the biggest challenge of Singh's career. If he wins, his stature is sure to grow by several notches. If he loses, it might be the beginning of the end for him.
There is reason to believe that the Congress' move is a calculated one. The party may feel that given the shift in the political winds in the state after the Assembly elections, he could pull off a victory.
Here are some points about the political situation in Bhopal that merit attention.
Firstly, the results in three of the eight Assembly segments of the Bhopal Lok Sabha constituency were encouraging for the Congress. The party won the Bhopal Madhya (Arif Masood), Bhopal Uttar (Arif Aqueel) and Bhopal Dakshin-Paschim (PC Sharma) constituencies with 53.20 percent, 58.77 percent and 49.14 percent vote shares respectively. In the remaining five seats, the BJP witnessed a dip in its margin.
Secondly, there is a significant Muslim vote bank in this constituency. Out of 20 lakh voters, nearly five lakh are Muslims.
Third, incumbent MP Alok Sanjar is a lesser-known candidate in comparison to past MPs such as Uma Bharti and Kailash Joshi, among others.
Fourthly, Singh, who has been the chief minister for two terms, is a tall leader in the party, and is the only one who can take up this challenge, due to his large network and following. He is considered more rooted to the state compared to chief minister Kamal Nath and another senior leader, Jyotiraditya Scindia, who had to face the "outsider" tag.
The attention Singh received during his Narmada Yatra is a case in point. One may like or dislike him, but he can’t be ignored.
Bhopal-based veteran journalist LS Herdenia told Firstpost, “Digvijay Singh, besides being a good strategist and poll manager, is a leader with a secular, pro-minority face. He will get an advantage from the three Assembly segments where Congress has won, as 70 percent of voters will vote in his favour. From the remaining five seats, he is expected to get 25-30 percent votes. Muslim votes will matter in his case. He has fair chances to win. However, it is a fact that he doesn't share a good rapport with a large number of government employees, who are not likely to vote for him."
The BJP can see hope in the general unpopularity of Singh. Many sections of the electorate may not have problems with the Congress, but they would not like him as a candidate.
In his two consecutive terms as Madhya Pradesh chief minister — from 1993 to 2003 — the general quality of life deteriorated even for people in the top cities of the state. His tenure is remembered for the long hours of power cuts that it ushered in the state, affecting life and work in cities like Bhopal and Indore, to say nothing of the conditions in villages. During Singh's tenure, babies used to be delivered in hospitals in darkness, and summers were spent awake fighting mosquitoes and sweat as the power supply was erratic and limited even in big cities.
Roads were equally badly affected. While roads in rural areas practically disappeared, those in Indore and Bhopal were ridden with potholes. Besides high levels of corruption in various government-related works — a well-known phenomenon from his two terms — Singh is also remembered for having taken away the jobs of 28,000 daily wagers across the state. This is something that is still discussed in the streets of Bhopal.
Singh's image as an outspoken leader in favour of Muslims, and several of his controversial statements, have made him unpopular among a large section of the populace.
Another Bhopal-based journalist said, "A change of fortunes for the Congress in Bhopal seems unlikely despite Digvijaya Singh’s candidature. In the last Lok Sabha election, the BJP had won this seat by a margin of 3.70 lakh votes. Barring 2004, when the voting percentage was low, the BJP has won this seat with a margin of over one lakh in every election since 1989. This was the case even when the Congress was in power at the Centre. Considering the demographics of the constituency, there is a possibility that polarisation may take place."
“Singh has a chance if the BJP fields a local candidate, as the saffron party is a divided force in the state capital,” the journalist added.
History of the constituency
In 1989, the BJP's Sushil Chandra Verma won the Bhopal constituency, and remained the MP for four consecutive terms. In 1999, former chief minister and Union minister in the present government Uma Bharti won by defeating Congress leader Suresh Pachouri. After that, former chief minister Kailash Joshi won twice, in 2004 and 2009.
The vote share of the BJP has always been much higher than that of the Congress in Bhopal. While incumbent MP Alok Sanjar got 63.19 percent votes in 2014, Congress candidate PC Sharma got only 30.39 percent votes.
In 2009 and 2004, the BJP’s share was 50.95 percent and 65.41 percent respectively in comparison to Congress’ 41.06 percent and 29.77 percent.
The decision to field Singh from Bhopal is a bold gamble on the part of the Congress, which, in turn, has compelled the BJP to rethink its choice of candidate. The BJP had been considering Bhopal mayor Alok Sharma as its candidate; but given the recent turn of events, former chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s candidature is doing rounds.
Although the BJP lost the Assembly election, Chouhan enjoys great personal goodwill among the common people. The Muslim voters in this constituency consider him as a moderate saffron leader.
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Updated Date: Mar 25, 2019 23:09:47 IST