Pragya Thakur was nominated as the BJP candidate from Bhopal in the belief that she would be the antithesis of Digvijaya Singh’s pro-minority and anti-majority community image.
Avtar Singh Bhadana, a powerful Gujjar leader from Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, and four-time MP who defected from the BJP back to the Congress early this year, was the obvious choice as the Congress Lok Sabha candidate from Faridabad. But the AICC announced that the ticket was to go to Lalit Nagar, who had won in the 2014 Haryana Assembly election defying a Modi wave. Lalit’s brother Mahesh’s name had popped up in the Justice Dhingra Commission’s inquiry into the land deals of Robert Vadra. Mahesh had helped Vadra purchase land in Haryana and Rajasthan. However, when Rahul Gandhi came to hear of Lalit’s selection by former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and the Delhi high command, he lost his temper and asked that the nomination be cancelled and the party symbol allotted to Bhadana. Vadra, incidentally, has not been seen at his wife Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s election rallies of late.
The Congress may have been on a weak wicket in Odisha, but state president Niranjan Patnaik is responsible for striking a death blow. He has selected candidates for the Assembly and Lok Sabha polls on his personal whims and fancies, with the Delhi high command too preoccupied to interfere. The situation is so dire that all the PCC organisational heads have resigned and five of the 15 MLAs have left the party and migrated to the BJD or BJP. The few strong contestants for Parliament, such as Sucharita Mohanty, who in 2014 won an impressive 2,60,000 votes from Puri, and Sangram Jena from Bhadrak, were quietly replaced at the last moment by non-entities. Sumitra Jena, the president of the state Mahila Congress, was not given the Bhadrak Assembly ticket and she promptly joined the BJD and was appointed party general secretary. Niranjan Patnaik’s way of dealing with increasing internal dissidence is to hand out tickets to sons and daughters of senior leaders to ensure silence. There are several family members in the Congress fighting the current elections.
Turning a new leaf
In Delhi, Digvijaya Singh built up an image as a fierce defender of minorities, from dubbing the Batla House encounter in the capital as fake to protesting against the US government burying Osama Bin Laden at sea. He was accused of coining the phrase ‘saffron terror’, a charge which he emphatically denies. In Bhopal, as the Congress Lok Sabha candidate, Singh has turned a new leaf and projects himself as an orthodox Sanatan Dharmi. He has visited all the major temples in the constituency, offered donations to numerous shrines, fed cows and spoken on the benefits of cow’s urine. In Assam, he performs animal sacrifice at a temple annually, and he also frequently refers to his six-month Narmada parikrama. Singh’s spiritual guru, Dwarka Shankaracharya Swarupanand, recently pointed out that Pragya Thakur, Digvijaya’s BJP opponent, cannot even call herself a sanyasin since she uses surname Thakur.
Zip her Lip
Pragya Thakur was nominated as the BJP candidate from Bhopal in the belief that she would be the antithesis of Digvijaya Singh’s pro-minority and anti-majority community image. Initially, Amit Shah was keen on Shivraj Singh Chouhan standing, but the former chief minister resisted, sensing that there was still an opportunity for him in state politics, depending on the 2019 election results. The BJP did not anticipate that Digvijaya would play the soft Hindutva card to the hilt and project himself as a defender of the Hindu faith, a title he inherited as a scion of the Raghogarh royal house. Nor did it bargain that Pragya would shoot off her mouth and embarrass the party from day one. After her Ram Mandir remark, Pragya was ordered to go on a day’s maun vrat, and now former BJP state spokesperson Hitesh Bajpai has been given charge of monitoring her interactions with the media.
After the sudden defections of Tom Vadakkan and Priyanka Chaturvedi, the Congress wants to introspect about the casual manner in which spokespersons were recruited by the party. Several are self-promoters who got co-opted over time, instead of rising through the party ranks. Chaturvedi, a glamorous face, joined the Congress media cell in 2010 and had a meteoric rise once Randeep Surjewala was put in charge. If Congress spokespersons have high expectations of their future prospects, it is because they see inspiring examples in the BJP, where senior ministers Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Prakash Javadekar, Smitri Irani and Nirmala Sitharaman, all started as party spokespersons. Chaturvedi was reportedly keen on a Congress parliamentary seat. According to party insiders, she talked to Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and threatened to leave. She was taken aback when Vadra reportedly responded with “All the best’’, leaving her no choice.