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Lok Sabha polls: BJP's choice of Sadhvi Pragya to contest from Bhopal indicates party's polarising strategy in crucial seat

The BJP's decision to field Pragya Singh Thakur, an accused in the Malegaon blast case, from the Bhopal parliamentary seat against Digvijaya Singh, a senior Congress leader in the state and two-time chief minister can be read as an explicit attempt to polarise the electorate. Pragya is known for her rabble-rousing remarks and her alleged role in the Malegaon blast case for which she is still being tried. Linked in the past to a clique of Hindu Right Organisations, including the ABVP, Durga Vahini and Abhinav Bharat among others, she joined the BJP on Wednesday in order to chart out her political career from Bhopal.

Political overview

Madhya Pradesh is one among the three states where sitting BJP governments lost out in the state Assembly elections, held a short while ago. In Madhya Pradesh, a BJP government had been in office for three consecutive terms, but in the recent election, the balance was tipped and the Congress scraped through, with a slim margin. In the state capital of Bhopal, out of a total of seven Vidhan Sabha seats, the BJP's share slid down to four, while that of the Congress rose to three. The BJP has traditionally commanded a decisive presence in the state Assembly as well as parliamentary elections. The Bhopal parliamentary seat has been a stronghold of the party and has not been wrested from the BJP since 1989.

Historical trajectory

A former Muslim princely state, Bhopal is known for the rule of a line of Begums (women rulers). The last Nawab of Bhopal State gave up the reins of the administration in 1949, two years after the Instrument of Accession had been signed in 1947. Initially, Bhopal was taken over as a chief commissioner's province and in 1956, it became the capital of the reorganised state of Madhya Pradesh. In the early 1960s, a Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) plant became operational there. These cumulative developments brought in hordes of new settlers and the city expanded.

 Lok Sabha polls: BJPs choice of Sadhvi Pragya to contest from Bhopal indicates partys polarising strategy in crucial seat

File image of Sadhvi Pragya after she joined the BJP. ANI

Communal fractures

Bhopal, which had been remarkably free of any major episode of communal discord and violence, flared up in late 1992, in the wake of the Babri Masjid demolition. The riot lasted for over a week. It disoriented and disfigured many lives, signalling a powerful breach. In its aftermath, Bhopal has begun to be classed as 'a hyper-sensitive city as far as communal disturbances are concerned' (Justice KK Dube Commission Report: Inquiry Commission on Bhopal and Ujjain riots, 2003). The riot gave rise to stiffened attitudes and sharpened fault lines. It has bred new insecurities.

A Baseline Survey carried out in Bhopal in 2008, under the purview of Minority Concentrated Districts Project launched by the Ministry of Minority Affairs (Government of India), reported that the 1992 violence and the widespread losses that it engendered have 'left a pervasive feeling of insecurity amongst the minorities'. Segregation of residential localities along religious lines has intensified in the city and socio-spatial boundaries are being increasingly cemented.

In Bhopal, as things stand today, Muslims across different classes, occupational backgrounds and a range of other affiliations are found to be overwhelmingly concentrated in the northern or old part of the city, while Hindus remain numerically dominant towards south (new) Bhopal. The alignment and identification of north (old) and south (new) Bhopal with distinct religious communities have been lodged and rooted in popular consciousness. As a testament to this, the former gets labelled a Muslim block, while the latter stands identified as a Hindu zone. Such ascriptive associations have been impressed upon with growing immediacy and force in recent decades. These have been invested with considerable salience in dominant representations and imaginings of the city.

It seems telling that the northern or old part of the city widely lacks access to necessary infrastructure and faces overcrowding. Conversely, its southern part or new Bhopal — with well laid-out roads and streets, relative ease and smoothness of traffic, and better quality of services in general — houses a discernibly large proportion of government establishments, multiplying commercial centres as well as other institutions. These two segments of the city, rather than developing as integrated parts of a homogeneous whole, appear to be locked in a strained and uneasy relationship.

The interconnected trends of growing segmentation of city spaces and reification of boundaries urge attention. The division of housing along communal lines has become steadily pronounced. At the ground level, the sedimentation of a clear divide and a growing distance between religious communities and their residential localities is palpable. These processes have with time metamorphosed into invisible, yet often impermeable, mental borders.

Attempted polarisation

In a taut and fiercely-contested Lok Sabha election, where a lot seems to be at stake for most contenders, the BJP has decided to field Pragya from Bhopal. With her entry into the fray, political discourse and rallies are bound to get more and more aggressive and acrimonious. This will only add to tensions and suspicions on the ground, and further strain existing forms of cross-community engagement.

The decision to field her from Bhopal explodes, yet again, the myth of the BJP's dissociation from the RSS and its auxiliaries. As has often been seen, its members can shift readily to different Sangh affiliates, including the BJP to meet strategic requirements, electoral or otherwise.

Whether this playing of the 'Hindu Card' will translate into political dividends for the BJP in one of its long-held Parliamentary segments remains to be seen. But, Pragya's candidature from Bhopal certainly serves to corrode further the fast-crumbling edifice of the city's composite culture and harmony by which many of its long-term residents still swear and hold dear.​

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Updated Date: Apr 19, 2019 12:33:14 IST