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Focused on Sadhvi Pragya and Digvijaya, MP is a Prestige Battle Both BJP, Congress Want to Win At All Costs

While Digvijaya Singh is pitted against strong saffron sentiments in Bhopal, Sadhvi Pragya Thakur is trying to cash in on the sympathy over her custodial torture.

Vivek Trivedi | News18

Updated:April 28, 2019, 10:58 AM IST
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Focused on Sadhvi Pragya and Digvijaya, MP is a Prestige Battle Both BJP, Congress Want to Win At All Costs
BJP leader Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and Congress senior leader Digvijaya Singh.

Bhopal: The country is witnessing a riveting Lok Sabha election battle in Madhya Pradesh wherein the political future of several bigwigs is at stake. Amid the ongoing multi-phased contest, the Bhopal Lok Sabha seat is grabbing eyeballs nationally and there are other contests where seniors from both Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress are battling for their political future.

To say the least, the contest in Bhopal -- between BJP’s Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh -- is being seen as one of the highlights of the 2019 polls.

With this, Singh, two-time chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, is making a return to the direct election arena. At 72, this perhaps would be his last electoral fight and also the toughest of his political career.

Singh had announced political sanyas before the 2003 assembly elections of Madhya Pradesh and vowed not to contest any polls for 10 years if his government was defeated, which eventually turn out to be the case. The ‘Raja of Raghogarh’ kept his word and did not even return to active politics after 2013.

Craving for a contest in his home town Rajgarh, Singh was made to take up the cudgels against the BJP by the party in Bhopal, a BJP stronghold since 1989. Pitted against strong saffron sentiments in the state capital, Singh now needs to deal with his past when he was massively accused of minority appeasement at the expense of enraging the majority. This, the Congress leader has tried undoing with his soft Hindutva approach. He is also facing public resentment for his rule and the anguish of the government staffers towards him.

Pragya Thakur, on the other hand, is riding high on her saffron poster girl image and is also trying to cash in on the sympathy she could generate over her custodial torture. The contest against Singh is also a do or die battle for the BJP, which has, for years, projected Singh as the icon of minority appeasement and Hindutva’s declined.

Digvijaya Singh, who has apparently lost favour with the Gandhis to an extent of late, desperately needs this win to keep himself ‘relevant’ in the state politics. And this being an ideological battle, the RSS has also joined in to make Thakur victorious.

Another key BJP figure, state head Rakesh Singh who apparently is running the show in the state, is also finding it hard to retain his Jabalpur seat, which he has represented thrice.

Rakesh Singh was earlier close to former union minister Prahlad Patel and these days enjoys proximity to both the state leaders and the high command. Into his third successive term, he is finding it hard to contain the anti-incumbency at home turf.

His detractors often claim that he has spent the last five years primarily under the shadow of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his persona. Modi’s election rally at Jabalpur on Friday was also considered an effort to bolster Singh’s winning chances.

His opponent Vivek Tankha, who lost the Lok Sabha poll in 2014 against him, had worked hard to polish his image. He is also known to be a social figure. Locals believe that there is an undercurrent in his favour this time as Modi wave is not as vigorous as it was in 2014.

This is perhaps what is compelling Rakesh Singh to devote most of his time at home turf.

Ajay Singh, son of Congress former stalwart Arjun Singh -- who was a powerful leader of the grand old party in the 1980s and 1990s-- is also fighting for his political future.

Arjun Singh was a former minister in Digvijaya Singh government and remained at the helm for the last five years as the leader of opposition. He had suffered a shocking defeat at the hands of BJP’s Shardendu Tiwari in 2018 assembly polls. He had won the seat, considered his family seat, six times in the past.

Since 1977, his family has lost the seat only once from Churhat. Not only did Singh lose the assembly poll in 2018, the BJP almost cleaned up the Congress in Vidhya -- the region Singh represents in MP Congress. Singh also had lost the 2014 Lok Sabha polls from Satna, a town adjoining his home turf Sidhi.

Although six MLAs had offered to resign after the 2018 polls so that Singh could contest by-polls, many believe his clout in Vindhya would be dented if he loses the 2019 elections. Well aware, he has also said in public meetings that this was the last attempt he made to serve the public and could be left with opting for Rajya Sabha if he loses now.

The odds are also not in his favour as the BJP holds seven out of eight assembly seats in the parliamentary constituency. But strong anti-incumbency for BJP MP Riti Pathak, who is also facing unrest in own party, is still in Singh’s favour. This is what perhaps propelled the BJP to make PM Modi address a rally in Sidhi on Friday.

Meenakshi Natrajan, former Mandsaur MP who is considered a key member of Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s youth brigade, is also contesting against BJP’s sitting MP Sudhir Gupta. In the headlines often for his off-the-cuff remarks, Gupta is also facing anti-incumbency as locals believe the MP mostly just enjoyed the Modi brand name and did nothing consequential during his tenure.

Natrajan had remained active in the area singed by farmer unrest in 2017 and also led various agitations. The Congress district unit also bolstered after the party made it to the power after a hiatus of 15 years.

Last but not the least, chief minister Kamal Nath also has his political legacy at stake as his son Nakul Nath is making his electoral debut from the Chhindwara lok sabah seat, held by Nath since 1980.

However, despite Nakul being a ‘greenhorn’ in politics, Nath senior is hopeful of a win as the Congress had won all the seven assembly seats in Chhindwara in 2018. Being the chief minister, Nath is likely to find favour for his son from the voters.

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| Edited by: Divya Kapoor
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