BJP's choice of Thakur to take on Singh, a former chief minister, has already underscored the saffron party's attempt to bring the Hindutva plank at the centrestage of polls in the high-profile constituency.
The Sangh Parivar’s support base in Bhopal will be put to the test Sunday when BJP’s Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur – a political novice – take on Congress stalwart Digvijay Singh in what is billed as one of the most interesting fights of this Lok Sabha polls. Hinduism vs Hindutva took centrestage in the poll campaign, putting development issues on the backburner. BJP’s choice of Thakur to take on Singh, a former chief minister, has already underscored the saffron party’s attempt to bring the Hindutva plank at the centrestage of polls in the high-profile constituency. And Thakur, on her part, has been claiming that she was tortured in police custody when under the UPA was in power at the behest of Singh, whom she has been calling anti-Hindu during her campaign.
Arrested in the 2008 Malegaon blast case, Thakur (48) was given a clean chit by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), but the trial court refused to discharge her from the case. The court dropped the charges under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) against her, and she is now being tried under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. She was granted bail by the Bombay High Court in 2017.
Interestingly Singh (72) roped in maverick Namdev Tyagi, popularly known as Computer Baba who emerged as a Hindu leader in Madhya Pradesh after the previous BJP government in the state accorded him minister of state status and appointed him on a panel to clean the Narmada.
The self-styled god man, in the run-up to the assembly elections last year, parted ways with BJP and switched to Congress and campaigned for it. The Congress after coming to power after 15 years in Madhya Pradesh paid him back by appointing him chairman of a river trust.
Tyagi, along with other ascetics, organised a yajana under the blazing sun for the Congress leader’s victory on Tuesday here. Singh and his wife Amrita and took part in the yajana. Singh and Tyagi also led a road show in which the sadhus chanted ‘Jai Shri Ram’, demanding that Ram temple be built at Ayodhya at the earliest, much to the surprise of many.
The sadhus criticised the BJP for going back on its promise on the Ram Temple construction. The election in Bhopal is being seen as a litmus test for the RSS which is believed to have played a key role in Thakur’s selection to take on Singh, a vocal critic of the Sangh Parivar.
“Thakur is a novice in politics whereas Digvijay Singh is a sharp politician,” an RSS ideologue and BJP leader said. “She is just a deeply religious person. Thakur does not have any political experience or temperament. She is just a face. The May 12 election in Bhopal is in fact going to be a test for the RSS and the BJP,” he added.
Thakur was picked after former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Union minister Uma Bharti expressed their reluctance to take on Singh, BJP insiders said. The BJP announced Thakur’s candidature late, indicating prolonged deliberation in the party before it came out with the final choice.
Thakur had a bumpy start to her campaigning. A day after she was fielded she made a controversial remark that she had cursed Maharashta ATS chief Hemant Karkare seeking his doom and five weeks later he was killed. Her remark drew nationwide condemnation, and put the BJP in a tight spot.
Though she apologised for her remark, the EC reprimanded and barred her from campaigning for three days from May 2 for this statement as well as one on Babri Mosque demolition. Unfazed, she sang bhajans and offered prayers in famous temples of Bhopal to drive home the point to the electorate that she was deeply faithful.
On the other hand, Digvijay Singh, known for raking up controversies in the past, concentrated on his electioneering and booth management. The Congress veteran did not speak on Karkare or the Ram temple issue, over which his rival had courted controversy. Though Bhopal has been a BJP bastion since 1989, the assembly elections held last November threw up a different picture, indicating that the Congress is slowly regaining its lost ground in the state capital.
The Lok Sabha constituency consists of eight assembly segments, of which three were won by the Congress in the state polls – from just one in 2013. In 2014, the BJP had won the Bhopal Lok Sabha seat by a huge margin of 3,70,696 votes. Minority votes number 4.5 lakh out of around 18 lakh plus in the Bhopal Lok Sabha constituency and they will come into play, a BJP insider said.
“We did not start politics of polarisation (in Bhopal). The Congress started it. MP Congress president and Chief Minister Kamal Nath had said Digvijay Singh’s vote count starts with 3 lakh – with Muslims votes,” state BJP spokesman Rajnish Agrawal said. “Digvijay Singh has started saying ‘I am a Hindu’. Who asked you if you are a Hindu? He started going to temples,” he said. “That time, Sadhvi’s name was not even announced. What narrative the Congress was trying to set,” he asked.
MP Congress spokesman Pankaj Chaturvedi, however, denied Nath saying that Singh’s vote count will start with 3 lakh votes. “Kamal Nathji had said that Digvijay Singhji will win the elections by more than 3 lakh votes. They (the BJP) think on communal lines so they have got it wrong,” he said.
“Thakur is no challenge to us. They did not find a candidate so they fielded her after Chouhan and Bharti refused to take on Digvijay Singh. Thakur has been made a scapegoat,” the Congress leader said.