Bhopal: More than an electoral battle, the Bhopal Lok Sabha seat that elected late president Shankar Dayal Sharma and Union minister Uma Bharti among others in the past, is facing a clash of ideologies this time.
Pragya Thakur, a saffron poster girl, is pitted against Congress’ Digvijaya Singh, who in the past has faced severe accusations of minority appeasement and nowadays is under the spotlight for his ‘soft Hindutva’ approach.
Since 1989, the seat is with the BJP when the bureaucrat-turned-politician Sushil Chandra Verma won and returned victorious on three more occasions. As factionalism peaked in the saffron party, the RSS picked up firebrand leader Uma Bharti as its nominee from Bhopal in 1999. She remained an MP till 2004 when she assumed office as Madhya Pradesh chief minister, uprooting the ten-year rule of Digvijaya Singh, now a Congress nominee from Bhopal.
BJP veteran Kailash Joshi (former CM) represented the seat in 2004 and 2009 before the party picked up Alok Sanjar in 2014, who won the seat against his nearest rival PC Sharma by over 3.70 lakh votes during "Modi wave".
However, as the Congress roped in party veteran Digvijaya Singh and RSS choices — Uma Bharti and Shivraj Singh Chouhan — backed off, the right-wing outfit brought Pragya Thakur, best known for her alleged involvement in 2008 Malegaon blasts. She is currently out on bail in the case.
As one turns the pages of history, it was Maimoona Sultan, the wife of the last Nawab of Bhopal, who was the first MP of this seat, after the state of Madhya Pradesh came into existence in 1957. Sultan came back victorious in 1962 but in the next poll, Bharatiya Jan Sangh crept with a win in 1967 through Jagannath Rao Joshi.
It was freedom fighter Shankar Dayal Sharma who brought back Congress into the helm, winning the seat in 1971. Sharma also won the seat again in 1980 while Arif Beg, a popular minority leader, had won on Bharatiya Lok Dal ticket in 1977.
Among these distinguished winners, a name also stands out who could not win. He was Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, the former cricketer and maternal grandson of last Bhopal Nawab Hamidullah Khan.
Pataudi, who won many accolades for the country with his cricketing skills, was left disappointed with his only electoral fight that ended in a distasteful defeat in 1991.
With Ram Janmabhoomi Andolan at its peak in 1991, all that Pataudi could do is to finish second against BJP’s Sushil Chandra Verma. Pataudi and his actor wife Sharmila Taigore drew huge crowds in election rally but perhaps this never translated into votes for the Nawab of Pataudi.
The saffron sentiments were so strong that out of 36 total candidates in the fray, including Swami Agnivesh, all lost their deposits.
Late PM Rajiv Gandhi and 1983 cricket World Cup winning skipper Kapil Dev too canvassed for Pataudi but all perhaps proved too little for Pataudi, who had shunned politics after his maiden loss.
The caste dynamics seems tilted in favour of Digvijaya Singh as the constituency has over four lakh Muslim voters in the Bhopal seat (including Sehore — also part of the parliamentary seat). However, after Thakur’s contentious take on Babri demolition, it’s highly unlikely that the minority community would side with the saffron party leader.
Besides, Kayastha community is also a dominant section of voters in the seat. Denial of ticket to sitting MP Alok Sanjar, who comes from this community, is also expected to affect choice of Kayasthas, many believe. This was perhaps the reason, the Congress has roped in film actor Shatrughan Sinha, a Kayastha, to campaign for Digvijaya Singh in Bhopal.
Moreover, till Pragya Thakur was handpicked by RSS as the nominee, several leaders, including Babulal Gaur and Umashankar Gupta also were demanding a local candidate.
So, the internal dynamics would also be counted once the seat goes to polls on May 12.
On the contrary, Digvijaya Singh’s own past is haunting him as he battles to keep his political career afloat. Many believe a loss against a novice Pragya Thakur could badly cut Singh to size in MP politics.
Singh, aided by his old followers in MP Congress, is waging a lonely battle as seniors, including chief minister Kamal Nath and West UP in-charge Jyotiraditya Scindia, have their own responsibilities.
Thakur, on every given opportunity, highlights her "custodial torture" and "disrespect to Hindutva", with the UPA era term "saffron terror" trying to generate sympathy, while Singh has been primarily seen in the company of seers at temples and religious events to establish his faith to Sanatan dharma.
Irrespective of the outcome of the keenly contested battle, the presence of two diverse ideological candidates has made this election in Bhopal an eye catcher for the entire country.