With election counting now approaching the final rounds, BJP candidate Pragya Thakur’s pitch for Hindutva seems to have triumphed over former chief minister and Congress candidate from Bhopal, Digvijaya Singh.
In her brief interaction with mediapersons, Thakur said she was happy that people had shown faith in her. “I thank the people for reposing trust in me. It will be a victory of dharma over adharma.”
What Worked in Pragya Thakur’s Favour?
The Bharatiya Janata Party has not lost a parliamentary election from Bhopal since 1989. BJP’s Alok Sanjar had in 2014 won the seat with a vote margin of almost 3.8 lakh against Congress’ PC Sharma.
Despite being terror accused Pragya Thakur managed to successfully set the narrative of nationalism in order to woo voters in this Hindi heartland.
Thakur is currently being tried for terrorism charges in connection with the Malegaon blasts in 2008 that killed six people. She is out on bail on health grounds.
During Thakur’s election campaign in Bhopal, Hindutva took centre stage. She claimed that Hindutva and development are synonymous. She also accused the Congress of conducting “vote bank politics” by appealing to members of minority communities and had said that she is fighting to uphold Hindutva.
She also claimed that she had been tortured in jail and that she is contesting to ensure that no woman faces such atrocities in prison.
Days after her candidature was announced, Thakur claimed that Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare had died in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack because she had cursed on him. She was also reprimanded by the Election Commission for her statement expressing “extreme pride” in having participated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992.
Undeterred, earlier in the month, she stoked another controversy by claiming that Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse was a patriot. Though she apologised for the remarks, the controversy forced Prime Minister Narendra Modi to attempt some damage control: he claimed that he would never forgive Thakur for what she said.
A native of Lahar in Bhind, Thakur had remained in ABVP and Durga Wahini, women wing of Bajrang Dal before being gaining fame as a powerful orator and a preacher.
What Went Wrong for Digvijaya Singh?
Digvijaya Singh, on his part, attempted to maintain a balance between appealing to both Hindu and Muslim voters. In an attempt to dispel Thakur’s claim that he was “anti-Hindu”, he participated in havans(Hindu religious ceremonies) and visited several temples. None of his efforts seemed to have worked.
The polling happened in highly polarised atmosphere in Bhopal. Despite having 25 percent Muslim population, Singh seems unable to woo the Muslim and other non-Hindu votes.
Having served as chief minister of Madhya Pradesh for 10 years from 1993, Singh has considerable political experience under his belt. However, this also seems to have worked against him. Negative sentiments among government staffers for Singh’s policies from his CM days also cost him vital votes.
The sheer lack of numbers also cost Singh. Consider this, roadshows by Digvijaya Singh in minority dominated North Bhopal with seers which was followed by Amit Shah’s roadshow in the same area with massive attendance caught many more eyeballs in the city during campaigning.
Among other factors, Modi as a brand sold across social barriers in both rural and urban seat. During campaigning many voters kept claiming they don’t support Thakur but they would definitely vote for Modi, irrespective of who was contesting locally.
Poll agencies had predicted a landslide win for the BJP in Madhya Pradesh. The News18-IPSOS Exit Poll has predicted 24-27 seats for the BJP and two-four for the Congress.
Singh, who had his own past to counter in this poll also faced anti-incumbency.