In a very vocal and assertive endorsement of Malegaon blast accused Pragya Singh Thakur, BJP president Amit Shah, former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and the entire top leadership of the state BJP participated in a roadshow with the party’s candidate for Bhopal Lok Sabha seat to an enthusiastic response late Wednesday evening.
The roadshow went through old Bhopal, with thousands of bystanders, traders and residents lined up with petals on either side of narrow lanes.
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Firecrackers, flower petals, confetti, balloons, and music band on hand, the opposition party in the state had made elaborate arrangement for the showcase event. It began a couple of hours late, but going by the turnout and enthusiastic sloganeering, that did not seem to have bothered many people. From sarees, turbans, flags and flax, saffron was the dominant colour.
The crowd shouted slogans that mainly hailed Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP. Unlike the rally when Thakur filed her nomination, there were not many takers for the slogan “Pragya didi sant hai Diggy (Digvijaya Singh) tera ant hai (Pragya-didi is a saint; your end is near, Digvijaya)” — instead, it was “har har Modi, ghar ghar Modi.”
Digvijaya Singh, a former chief minister of MP, is the Congress candidate from Bhopal.
More than 850 security personnel had been posted along the route of the roadshow, which began from Bhavani Chowk, which has a temple called Curfew-wali Mata Mandir, apparently because it was built after curfew that lasted for weeks in the 1980s. It passed through Lakherapura, Chowk, Sarafa Bazar, Loha Bazar, Jumerati Gate and Ghoda Nakkas before ending at the old bus stand on Hamidia Road.
The BJP initially wanted to organise a public meeting for Shah but chose the roadshow because it lets them reach more people. Shah and Pragya Thakur got on the open vehicle to the recital of Swasti Vachan. As firecrackers were set off and the roadshow began, there was a near-stampede in the congested lanes.
Before Shah, Chouhan and Thakur arrived, BJP MLAs and other leaders, including those who had been contenders for the Bhopal seat, spoke on nationalism and indulged in anti-Pakistan rhetoric. Shah, Chouhan and Thakur did not address the crowd.
The BJP chief and Chouhan got off the vehicle around 9.45 pm to maintain the campaign deadline.
“Digvijaya Singh has to identify himself as a Hindu, while Sadhvi Pragya Singh is a Hindu from top to bottom,” Mayor Alok Sharma said.
Another BJP leader, without taking the Congress candidate’s name, referred to Digvijaya as Maulana Bantadhar.
The party’s candidate from Khajuraho constituency, V D Sharma, who was among the contenders for the ticket from Bhopal, asked people to vote so enthusiastically that Digvijaya is sent to Pakistan. The crowd was repeatedly asked whether they need any proof about the airstrikes and that the Air Force had killed about 300 terrorists. BJP leader asked them to respond on May 12, the voting day.
Watching the proceedings a few feet from the dais, an overwhelmed Rajesh Verma, 34, a private sector employee, said, “Ek number hai; swagat se lag raha hai BJP zarur jitegi (It’s top class; from the looks of it, seems BJP will certainly win).”
Although Bhopal is considered one of the safest seats for the saffron party in MP, the BJP did not want to take a chance and looked to field a senior candidate after Congress nominated Digvijaya. After Chouhan and another former CM, Uma Bharati, declined to contest, the party fielded Thakur.
Thakur stirred a controversy, and was penalised by the Election Commission with a three-day campaign ban, with her remarks degrading the sacrifices of slain IPS officer Hemant Karkare.