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Kept waiting, Sumitra Mahajan skips Modi event, hints she is ready to contest

Sumitra Mahajan will turn 76 next month — crossing the red line of 75 drawn by the BJP for leaders to be in active politics, but followed selectively.

Written by Milind Ghatwai | Bhopal | Updated: April 2, 2019 8:14:28 am
Madhya Pradesh: Kept waiting, Sumitra Mahajan skips Modi event, hints she is ready to contest In 2014, Sumitra Mahajan won Indore by 4.66 lakh votes.

AFTER winning eight times on the trot from Indore, outgoing Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan has been made to sweat by the BJP, which is yet to take a call on the constituency that goes to polls on May 19, the last phase of voting.

The Congress, which hasn’t named a candidate either, claims it will do so within hours of the BJP taking a call.

Mahajan will turn 76 next month — crossing the red line of 75 drawn by the BJP for leaders to be in active politics, but followed selectively. The delay in announcement of Mahajan’s name, coupled with broad hints dropped by state party president Rakesh Singh, has created uncertainty over her candidature.

On Sunday, Mahajan was not present at the Indore site where the BJP had made arrangements for showing Narendra Modi’s ‘Main Bhi Chowkidar’ Delhi event. She is among the few senior BJP leaders to have not prefixed Chowkidar to their names on Twitter.

The BJP has named candidates for 18 of the 29 seats in Madhya Pradesh so far. With Indore a BJP bastion, there is no ostensible reason for it not to have featured in the first two lists.

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A few weeks ago Mahajan had suggested she might have already contested her last election, before tossing her hat in the ring again. On Sunday, while not ruling herself out of the race, she told a news agency in Indore, “The organisation will take the right decision at the right time.”

Last week, she said at a party meeting, “It will be either me or Narendra Modi from Indore.” When asked to clarify, she claimed it was meant to be a joke but did not deny the statement.

In 2014, Mahajan, or “Tai (elder sister in Marathi)”, as she is called, had won Indore by 4.66 lakh votes. The margin had been stunning as she had survived a scare in 2009 getting only 11,480 votes more than her Congress rival, though most of her wins before that had been by more than one lakh votes.

Sources said the margin of the 2014 victory — with which she set a country-wide record for successive wins from the same constituency and same party — had made party rivals like Kailash Vijayvargiya nervous. The party general secretary, called by a section of workers as Bhai, had been accused of working against her in 2009.

The rivalry between the two BJP leaders is often described as ‘Tai versus Bhai’. When Vijayvargiya was given organisational responsibility by the BJP outside MP, it was thought it would work to Mahajan’s advantage. Since the last parliamentary elections, Mahajan’s profile has also grown as a vocal and often controversial Speaker, who was attacked by the Opposition for showing open bias towards the BJP.

The Congress, meanwhile, has been growing in Indore, and in last year’s Assembly elections, won four of the nine Assembly seats under it. In February when asked if she was ready to take on candidates like Jyotiraditya Scindia or Digvijaya Singh of the Congress, Mahajan had said, “Indore’s key will remain with me. It will be good to take on strong candidates.”

However, the notion that the party may have sealed Mahajan’s fate, now that she is over 75, gained currency a few days ago when the state BJP president said, “The party will take her consent before taking any decision”, which was seen as a hint that she would be replaced.

Last month, BJP leader Satyanarayan Sattan announced that he would contest as an Independent if she was fielded again by the party. Younger to her by a few years, he alleged that she had been around for three decades but did not have much to show for it.

In her long career that began when she defeated former Congress chief minister P C Sethi in 1989, Mahajan has not faced many hurdles. A party insider said her name had been opposed by a section of leaders ahead of the 1999 elections, but she prevailed.

Indore-based BJP leader Govind Malu said Mahajan was non-controversial, had not faced a corruption charge in her long career, and Indore had developed a lot under her. The parliamentary seat has a sizeable population of Marathi-speaking people.

A Congress leader claimed the party had never put up a strong candidate against her even though “she had done little for the region”. He attributed Mahajan’s winning streak to her clean image. He added that if the BJP fields her eventually, the Congress may put up Pankaj Sanghvi, a BJP-turned-Congress leader. In case the BJP settled for Mayor Malini Gaud, the Congress would give ticket to its media in-charge Shobha Oza.

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