How ‘Nawabi’ Bhopal Became a Flashpoint for BJP's Ideological Battle in MP
Since 1989, the Bhopal seat is with the BJP when the bureaucrat-turned-politician Sushil Chandra Verma won and returned victorious on three more occasions.
PM Modi during a campaign rally in Madhya Pradesh.
Bhopal: The various Lok Sabha election exit polls that followed the seventh and final phase of voting on the evening of May 19 predicted a convincing return to power for the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance. The exit polls also suggested a dominant performance from the BJP in the Hindi heartland states where it lost Assembly polls to the Congress just six months ago.
In Madhya Pradesh, where Congress formed the state government with a wafer thin majority in December, BJP is likely to get 24 to 27 seats out of a total 29, the News18-IPSOS exit poll predicted. The Congress, the exit poll numbers suggested, is likely to get two to four seats in the state.
In Madhya Pradesh, the Bhopal Lok Sabha seat that went to polls on May 12, considered to be a bastion for the BJP, became a flashpoint for aggressive campaigning, controversy and electoral battles in the state. 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, was facing a clash of ideologies this Lok Sabha polls.
Pragya Thakur, the saffron poster girl, was 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 from the contest, the right-wing outfit brought in Thakur, best known for her alleged involvement in 2008 Malegaon blasts. The terror accused contested polls while 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 Tagore 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 seemed 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). 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 had roped in film actor Shatrughan Sinha, a Kayastha, to campaign for Digvijaya Singh in Bhopal.
Thakur’s contentious take on Babri demolition and her controversial statements on Hemant Karkare and Nathuram Godse drew considerable flak from all quarters. Even the BJP had to distant itself from her comments, with PM Narendra Modi saying he could ‘never forgive’ her for calling Godse a ‘patriot’ and thus insulting Mahatma Gandhi.
Moreover, up to the point Thakur was handpicked by RSS as the nominee, several leaders, including Babulal Gaur and Umashankar Gupta were also demanding a local candidate. So, the internal dynamics would also be counted in the Bhopal electoral battle.
On the contrary, Singh’s own past is haunting him as he battles to keep his political career afloat. Many believe a loss against a novice Thakur could badly cut Singh to size in MP politics.
Singh, aided by his old followers in MP Congress, was waging a lonely battle as seniors, including chief minister Kamal Nath and West UP in-charge Jyotiraditya Scindia, had their own responsibilities. Scindia was the election in-charge in Uttar Pradesh West.
Thakur, on every given opportunity, highlighted her "custodial torture" and "disrespect to Hindutva", with the UPA era term "saffron terror" trying to generate sympathy, while Singh was 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 made this election in Bhopal was an eye catcher for the entire country. On May 23, the results would show if the exit poll numbers paint an accurate picture of Bhopal and Madhya Pradesh.
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