[Bhopal: Congress candidate from Bhopal Lok Sabha seat Digvijaya Singh during a roadshow for the ongoing Lok Sabha polls, in Bhopal, Thursday, May 9, 2019. ( /PTI]
By Chandrakant Naidu Bhopal, May 9 : After 13 of the 29 Lok Sabha constituencies in Madhya Pradesh voted in the previous two phases, quite a few bigwigs are in the fray as eight more seats get ready to vote in the sixth phase of polling on May 12.
Among the constituencies going to the polls on Sunday is Bhopal, which has grabbed a lot of attention after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) fielded the controversial Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, an accused in the 2008 Malegaon bomb blast case, against veteran Congress leader Digvijaya Singh.
The other bigwigs in the fray include former Union Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia of the Congress from Guna and Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar of the BJP from Morena.
The five other seats set to vote on Sunday are Vidisha, Bhind, Gwalior, Sagar and Rajgarh. Barring Guna which was won by Scindia, all the other seats went to the BJP in 2014.
Pragya Thakur, who joined the race for Bhopal almost a month after Digvijaya Singh’s candidature was finalised, is no longer just a candidate, but has become an election issue. Many have raised questions over her candidature, wondering if someone who’s out on bail in a terror case should be allowed to contest elections.
Fielding Pragya Thakur is also an example of how the BJP is trying to redefine “majoritarian communalism” as nationalism under pressure from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Not a stranger to controversies, she was barred from campaigning for 72 hours by the Election Commission for her remarks about former Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare and for expressing pride about her role in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992.
Soon after her candidature was announced, Pragya Thakur claimed to have cursed Karkare, which, according to her, led to his death. Karkare was killed in the 2008 Mubai terror attack.
Digvijaya Singh too has been drawing the poll panel’s attention by involving sadhus in his election campaign. Days after Namdeo Tyagi alias Computer Baba performed a “hath yoga” for the senior Congress leader, the Election Commission took cognizance of the matter and initiated a probe to decide if Digvijay Singh has violated the model code of conduct.
There was another controversy over a procession of 7,000 saffron clad sadhus in support of the Congress. There were also allegations that policemen were asked to wear saffron scarves. However, the Director General of Police (DGP) has denied the charge.
Former state BJP chief Narendra Singh Tomar had to change his constituency from Gwalior to Morena due to the growing resentment against him in Gwalior, which sent him to the Lok Sabha in 2014. In Morena, Tomar is up against senior Congressman Ram Niwas Rawat, who has been fielded despite losing in the Assembly elections last year.
Guna is one of the two seats in Madhya Pradesh which the Congress had won in 2014 (it later won the bypolls in Ratlam after the death of BJP MP Dileep Singh Bhuria in 2015). In 2014, Jyotiraditya Scindia defeated Jaibhan Singh Pawaiya of the BJP in Guna by over 1 lakh votes.
While Scindia has been a consistent winner over the years, organisational responsibilities in Uttar Pradesh have kept him away from campaigning in full steam this time. He also incurred the wrath of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati for poaching her candidate from Guna, Lokendra Singh, who dropped out of the contest at the last minute. Scindia is up against K.P. Yadav of the BJP.
The battle in Vidisha has lost some of its sheen after two-time sitting BJP MP and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj decided not to contest the Lok Sabha elections. The constituency had earlier sent Atal Bihari Vajpayee and ex-Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to the Lok Sabha.
A stronghold of the BJP which has retained it for 30 years, Vidisha will this time witness a contest between two debutants — BJP’s Ramakant Bhargava and Shailendra Singh of the Congress.
In Gwalior, the BJP has fielded Vivek Shejwalkar in place of Narendra Singh Tomar, while the Congress has reposed faith in Ashok Singh and the contest is evenly poised.
The BJP has replaced the sitting MPs in Sagar and Bhind while retaining its candidate in Rajgarh. Rajgarh is where Digvijaya Singh wanted to contest from and Congress supporters will have the added responsibility of winning this seat.
The BJP candidate in Bhind, Sandhya Rai, has to vindicate the party’s decision to nominate her in place of sitting MP Bhagirath Prasad, a former bureaucrat. Her rival Devashish Jarariya of the Congress is a newcomer who has little to lose.
Sagar will witness a contest between two first timers — Prabhu Singh Thakur of the Congress and Lakshminarain Yadav of the BJP.
(The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)