Bhopal: In less than a fortnight, Bhopal Lok Sabha seat, which is witnessing one of the most keenly-watched contests, will go to polls. The shrill campaigning, narrative and counter-narrative set by the Congress and the BJP has prompted many to draw parallels. Analysts point out this political battleground in central India is now more that a fight about winning or losing the seat. They feel that entrenched position by two sides – Congress represented by Digvijaya Singh and the BJP by Pragya Singh Thakur -- leaves little doubt that after Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, Bhopal is turning into a new laboratory to test whether soft Hindutva or hardline Hindutva will work in coming days.
Even as political pundits get busy with poll arithmetic, reeling off factors favouring or going against each of two candidates and who will carry the day, there are some who view it differently. In their opinion, a bigger play going beyond the obvious is at work.
Statements from Digvijaya and Sadhvi Pragya strengthen impression that an experiment is being carried out here. How it eventually plays out will set the bar and have a bearing on power play in future. Political watchers stress winning the election may appear as the main text. But the subtext, they say, is clear: it is which version of Hindutva will gain acceptance. Observers remind Digvijaya Singh’s recent statements during his campaigning. He described the election as do-or-die battle, appealing to people to stand united in this war of ideologies. On Sunday, he also expressed his support for Kanhaiya Kumar, saying the JNU student leader had not raised anti-India slogans and there was a conspiracy to defame him. And not to be left behind in this raucous war of nerves, the firebrand BJP leader took on her rival, questioning the credentials of Congress and coining of the term “saffron terror” and “treating terrorists with respect”.
With the election for the seat set for the second week of May, the two candidates are going all guns blazing, trying to outdo each other in what appears to many as an attempt at raising rhetorical pitch.
After all, the two opponents, represent pole opposite positions on issues are ranged against each other, turning it essentially into one of the most prized electoral contests in the country.
According to a professor of humanities stream at the prestigious National Law Institute University (NLIU), the Congress is trying to achieve twin purposes by fielding Digvijaya Singh from Bhopal seat. First, the Congress is trying to test the credibility of Digvijaya and all that he stands for. Second, the party wants to give a tough fight and wrest the seat it could not win in 30 years. He feels the party has succeeded in achieving the second objective. It jolted the saffron brigade out of complacency.
“As for the BJP”, he says, “The saffron party is trying to put to test its ideology and see if hard Hindutva still resonates with voters. By giving ticket to a hardcore activist and a woman, the party is trying to pass on the baton to young generation. It is a second step after Yogi Adityanath.”
He argues that she fits the bill to carry forward development and ideological battle of the BJP and is in sync with the saffron party’s scheme of things.
He says L K Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi were the mascots of hard Hindutva from old generation in the party. With their near-complete departure from active politics, the party needs new mascots. Her candidature is a movement in that direction. It is also an attempt to retain their traditional support base.
Asked, a journalist from the capital also expressed his views on more or less similar lines. He said a different experiment is being tried out in Bhopal. Fielding Digvijaya by the Congress and Sadhvi Pragya by her party just point to that. To buttress his point, he draws attention to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s defence of Thakur, wherein he said the party nominee for Bhopal Lok Sabha constituency was being defamed by the Congress and spoke of insult of Hinduism by the party.
Irrespective of their political leanings, young and old timers alike agree on one thing. In its history, Bhopal Lok Sabha constituency is grabbing attention across the country like never before. From political observers to commentators, experts to spin masters and voters have their own interpretation and take on evolving scene and the likely outcome. It is not without reason. Re-entry of Congress veteran Diggy Raja in electoral politics after 15 years and electoral politics debut of firebrand hardliner Sadhvi Pragya, the Malegaon blast accused, on BJP ticket triggered an interest on a scale not seen in decades in this part of central India.