Digvijaya Singh now has to deal with a strident hitback for his ‘saffron terror’ comment in a polarised context
Battleground Bhopal is now a matter-antimatter confrontation without any pretence of electoral grace, propriety or even issues. The BJP has fielded its newly-inducted member Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, facing trial in the Malegaon blast case and the new flame of extreme hate politics, against Congress heavyweight and the author of the term “saffron terror,” Digvijaya Singh. It is a blatant battle between hardline Hindutva and secular Congressism. It is the NDA’s reaction to the UPA’s action. It is also about muscularity over protocol, about the accused taking on the accuser. Thakur, one of those charged in the Malegaon blasts, is still out on bail though the National Investigative Agency (NIA) has claimed the evidence against her was insufficient and exonerated her. However, a special court in Mumbai says there’s evidence to prosecute her. But for the BJP, the shroud of doubt, the burden of crimes or law don’t matter in choosing a Lok Sabha candidate no less. The same law, of course, denies Opposition candidates similar privileges. It is about ideology rather than grammar. As BJP president Amit Shah said, since Digvijaya Singh had defamed India by coining terms like “saffron terror”, the party had decided to take the matter to the people’s court by fielding the Sadhvi against him in a sort of reckoning. Digvijaya has also been a bitter critic of the RSS, the ideological guide of the BJP, and the party has, therefore, taken him on with stridency. In the process, the extremist fringe that had so far been treated like disruptive outliers in the Modi-led NDA-1 has now been mainstreamed in the political narrative. And while murmurs were raised about the virulent Yogi Adityanath when he was made Chief Minister, looks like his kind will now find a greater voice. The kind that doesn’t carry the baggage of history and can give a fresh spin to the legacy of identity politics. Besides, with Uma Bharti refusing to contest against Digvijaya in Bhopal, whom she had dislodged once in the Assembly, the BJP has been only too happy to find her younger version. With her saffron robes and self-proclaimed fight for dharma, the BJP has found a way to strike an emotive chord in the heartland and win back old faithfuls bred on the Ayodhya plank. It is also an overture to the RSS, whose network needs to be fully activated to secure a victory. And if Bhopal, being the State Capital and a high-profile seat, sets off a tide, then the BJP could recover some lost ground from the Assembly elections last year.
Bhopal is a tough fight for the Congress, the party having plummeted there since 1984 and the seat sending BJP MPs since 1989, that too with convincing margins. Yet the newly-elected Chief Minister Kamal Nath has taken on the challenge of wresting some seats that have eluded the party for 30 years and has, therefore, deployed former Chief Minister and colleague in arms Digvijaya. Thakur has the advantage of not just being a flag-bearer of Hindutva but the legacy of the party’s former Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, whose personal stock works with the masses. Little wonder then that the Sadhvi claimed his support immediately after emerging out of the BJP office. However, Digvijaya is no pushover. His huge following across the State cannot be denied and having been a two-term Chief Minister, he has a grip on Bhopal and Indore. Compared to him, his peers, be it Kamal Nath and tribal leader Kantilal Bhuria, or even junior colleague Jyotiradtya Scindia just command their own pocket boroughs. In the halcyon days, Digvijaya would not only pilot his own chopper and drive to the hinterland to meet his constituents, he knew their names and had the statistics, down to the block level, at the back his hand. Digital India may be common speak now but back then, he introduced e-governance and e-Chaupal modules in Dhar district. But that vision is not under review anymore, his rabid support to conspiracy theories about the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and Hindu extremists is. And in a polarised polity, that myopia is rampant. That also helps Sadhvi Thakur. Her vote count will decide her guilt or innocence.
Friday, 19 April 2019 | Pioneer
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