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Lok Sabha election: Amidst Madhya Pradesh's Hindutva din, development falls by the wayside in Bhopal

Hundreds of BJP workers and leaders were waiting for Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur to turn up at a workers' meet in Berasia town, around 50 kilometres away from Bhopal. The saffron leader was running three-and-a-half hours late. She expressed no remorse for keeping BJP workers and leaders waiting in the unbearable heat. All was forgiven as soon she started reciting mantras with her eyes closed. She knew her supporters were under her spell.

Just three days prior, she had been declared a candidate from the Bhopal Lok Sabha seat and she was keen on catching up with electioneering as her opponent has a clear lead of a month and a half. Pitted against the formidable Congress leader and former chief minister, Digvijaya Singh, she has to counter his proven connect with the people and party workers in the state. At every meeting, she has been demonising Digvijaya for calling the RSS and Hindutva votaries "terrorists". She claims he has time and again insulted all Hindus as well as Sanatan dharma. "Main bhagwa ko samman dila kar rahungi (I will ensure the respect  of saffron)," she resolves.

"It is the Congress and its leaders who dubbed patriots 'terrorists'. 'Hindu terrorism' is a term coined by Congress leaders. It was done to divide the community and take political advantage. What is saffron terrorism? They coined this term to remain in power, but are instead now going around temples in saffron robes," Sadhvi tells people and exhorts them to  pay the Congress back in the same coin for unabashedly insulting Hindus.

Digvijaya's utterance has come back to haunt him now. The Raja sahib of Radhogarh has changed gears and is trying hard to appease Hindus in every possible way. His election office in the heart of the capital city was inaugurated by Shankaracharya, saints and sadhus. He visits every temple and shrine on the campaign trail. Sadhvi's presence in the election arena and her unbridled attack on him for being "anti-Hindu" has left him running for cover. He has decided to pull out all the stops and talk only about his development agenda for Bhopal.

The tone has thus been set in Bhopal for campaigning. It will be a contest between the BJP-RSS brand of religious and populist nationalism pitted against the soft Hindutva stance of the Congress. Developmental issues have been put on the backburner.

 Lok Sabha election: Amidst Madhya Pradeshs Hindutva din, development falls by the wayside in Bhopal

Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur address a gathering in Madhya Pradesh. Firstpost/Bishan Kumar

Sadhvi's offensive

At another meeting in the city, Sadhvi calls on the people to punish those who insult saffron robes by terming it 'saffron terror'. This is the card she has decided to play all through her election campaign. Leaders and workers are confident that the Hindutva card will reap rich dividends.

"Sadhvi's candidature has created a favourable atmosphere for the party, not only in Bhopal but across the country. Her presence will impact many seats in Madhya Pradesh," says Alok Sanjar who represented Bhopal in the Lok Sabha for the past five years and is also an extremely popular leader. Alok, who is handling Sadhvi's election campaign does not shy away from accepting the fact that the Hindutva card is gaining currency, hence, there is no harm in using it to its fullest potential. Development and other issues will surely matter but will not be enough to create a favourable atmosphere for Sadhvi, he feels.

Sadhvi is also playing the victim card with great ease. She has played her part in showing down the Congress regime. She sheds copious tears while narrating her nine-year ordeal in prison following her incarceration in connection with the Malegaon blast. She shares with the people horrific stories of police torture and the rough treatment meted out by jail officials. This resonates with women workers and voters, and many of them can be seen wiping their own tears. Hemlata Bhargava, president of the Mahila Morcha, Bhopal Rural feels that there is a sympathy wave building up for Sadhvi among women and thinks women will come out in big numbers to vote for her. In Bhopal's rural segments, women voters generally flock to the polls in greater numbers than their male counterparts.

Hemlata and her team have their jobs cut out. "Our mandals (divisions) have around 20 to 25 villages under them and in each mandal, workers and leaders go out in groups to meet women voters and inform them about the good work done by our party in the state and at the Centre. We will also share the tales of torture meted out to Sadhvi Pragya with the women," she says.

On the defensive

Despite coaxing by the media on several occasions, Digvijaya has not uttered a single word against her, or even talked about the case under which she was arrested. Soon after the announcement of Sadhvi as a BJP candidate, he had said, "I welcome her in Bhopal." His poll planners and he are concerned that the BJP will try its best to polarise voters along communal lines. The Bhopal parliamentary constituency is home to 19.5 lakh voters, of whom 4.5 lakh are Muslim. Digvijaya wants to stay clear of any direct verbal confrontation with Sadhvi and has instructed all his leaders and spokespersons to stick to the development agenda only and not get provoked by any questions on religious lines.

Other than temple-hopping, Digvijaya is trying hard to get people's attention on the so-called step motherly treatment given to Bhopal by the BJP. "For 30 years, the people of Bhopal have consistently elected BJP MPs, but what did the party give the constituency? Look at Bengaluru, Pune and Hyderabad, where youngsters from Bhopal go to look for jobs. Why did Bhopal lag behind in the race for development?" he asks while setting his agenda for the tough contest that lies ahead. His ambitious manifesto focusing on Bhopal's development shows his serious intent, but the question is: Will it cut much ice in this election?

Digvijaya Singh offers prayers on the campaign trail. Firstpost/Bishan Kumar

Digvijaya Singh offers prayers on the campaign trail. Firstpost/Bishan Kumar

Temple runs

If that was not enough, his recent temple runs and attempts to highlight his four-month long 'Narmada Parikrama' has given more ammunition to the saffron brigade. It has sharpened its attack on the Congress candidate's new love for Hindu votes.  BJP leaders opine that the more he goes to temples, the more he will lose Muslim votes.

Even the Congress candidate from Indore, Pankaj Sanghani's recent statement that "there is no bigger Hindu leader than Digvijaya, who even at his age (70) carried out a 3,500-kilometre-long Narmada yatra on foot" has not helped the former Madhya Pradesh chief minister in any way.

Interestingly, a video is doing the rounds on WhatsApp showing Mahant Sri Rammohan Das "Ramayani" from Mandi (Himachal Pradesh) describing Digvijaya as "Dharmnishtha, kartavyanishtha and kattar Hindu (one who abides by religion and duty, and is a devout Hindu)".

As long as Digvijaya tries to garner more such certificates from sadhus and sants in his favour, the attacks on him from saffron brigade will only intensify.

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Updated Date: Apr 23, 2019 13:22:55 IST