Billed as an ideological battle, the emphatic victory of political novice Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur from Bhopal has ruined former Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh’s return to active politics in Madhya Pradesh.
After the debacle of the Congress in 2003 assembly elections, the senior Congress leader had vowed not to contest any elections for 10 years. When he finally decided to take the plunge again, he wanted to contest from Rajgarh, his home turf, but Chief Minister Kamal Nath forced him to contest from Bhopal, one of the safest BJP seats in the state.
“Even an ordinary worker can defeat Singh in Bhopal,” former CM Uma Bharati had said before the BJP announced the candidature of the Malegaon blast case accused.
The Congress leader got weeks to campaign because the BJP announced Pragya Singh’s name much later but that did not help his cause. His campaign appeared to be organized and systematic unlike the chaos surrounding her initial efforts before the RSS took the reins in its hands. In between, she had to endure 72-hour ban on campaigning due to her controversial statements. She used the break to visit temples and sing bhajans in the glare of TV cameras.
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Just three days before the campaign ended, she released a patchy vision document in stark contrast to the vision document unveiled by the Congress leader with audio-visual aids, helped by an architect. Though exit polls had projected her victory, the margin stunned all. While counting was still on, she had got more than 8.25 lakh votes, an overwhelming endorsement of her candidature. Her Congress rival got less than five lakh votes.
The Congress candidate probably visited more temples than his BJP rival and even fed a roti to a cow in a campaign that was polarizing from the beginning. The BJP had projected him as anti-Hindu and pro-minority, an image he tried to fight throughout the campaign.