By picking terror-accused Sadhvi Pragya Thakur as its candidate against senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh in the Bhopal Lok Sabha constituency, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has sent out an unequivocal message about its intention to make “saffron terror” the chief talking point in what has become a high-profile contest. A known Hindu hardliner, Ms Thakur’s mandate is to whip up a communal frenzy by putting Mr Singh in the dock for appeasing minorities and equating saffron with terror. But the veteran Congress leader is no pushover and has been going out of his way to establish his credentials as a true Hindu even before the BJP announced Ms Thakur’s candidature. Not only has Mr Singh been busy temple-hopping, performing pujas and participating in yagnas, he has also made it a point to publicise this on Twitter. In addition, Mr Singh has sought help from his long-time guru Dwarka-Sharda Peeth Shankaracharya Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati, who is virtually camping in Bhopal to vouch for Mr Singh’s devotion to the Hindu faith. Having been branded as “anti-Hindu”, Mr Singh sought an image makeover when he undertook a six-month Narmada yatra last year. The Congress leader also made it a point to invoke “Ma Narmada” while “welcoming” Ms Thakur to Bhopal for the election and expressed the hope that Narmadaji would bless them all so that they walk the path of truth and non-violence.
The BJP is predictably upbeat about its electoral prospects in Rajasthan after it tied up with Gurjar Arakshan Sangharsh Samiti leader Kirori Singh Bainsla and Jat leader Hanuman Beniwal, especially since the Congress was also in talks with the two caste leaders. Though Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot was said to be keen on drafting Mr Bainsla and Mr Beniwal, he was unable to clinch a deal with them because of internal pressures. According to the political grapevine, the politically powerful Mirdha family was not happy about a partnership between the Congress and Mr Beniwal’s party, as it fears he has the potential to erode its support base in the Jat majority areas. Jyoti Mirdha, who has been fielded from the Nagaur Lok Sabha constituency by the Congress, is learned to have sought help from former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who also happens to be her sister’s father-in-law. Mr Hooda, who wields considerable influence in the party, apparently ensured that the Congress failed to finalise an alliance with Mr Beniwal. On the other hand, a partnership with Mr Bainsla was apparently nixed at the behest of deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot who was wary of sharing the limelight with another Gurjar leader. Unable to build a winning social coalition, the Congress has handed an advantage to the BJP even though it had defeated the saffron party in last year’s Assembly polls.
The term “dummy candidate” consistently crops up to describe the BJP candidate in Uttar Pradesh’s Firozabad Lok Sabha constituency in conversations with people. It is an open secret here that the BJP has deliberately fielded a weak candidate and is instead helping Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav’s estranged uncle Shivpal Singh Yadav, who is contesting against his nephew and sitting MP Akshay Yadav from this seat. People in Firozabad point out that the BJP’s campaign here has been low-key and though some senior leaders from the saffron camp have visited Firozabad, the party has taken a conscious decision not to schedule Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election rally here.
In the past week, the ministry of home affairs issued “leave India” notices to two Bangladeshi actors after the BJP complained that they had campaigned for Trinamool Congress candidates. The rules are very clear that foreigners cannot participate in any election campaign. First, it was actor Ferdous Ahmed who was asked to leave the country while his business visa was cancelled. Equally popular in West Bengal, Ferdous visits India regularly to fulfil his acting assignments in Bengali films. After him, it was the turn of Bangladesh television actor Gaazi Abdul Noor to be shown the door. However, the move has not gone down well with the Bangladesh government. While admitting that the actors had been wrong in breaking the law, its foreign minister A.K. Abdul Momen told the local media that the Indian government’s reaction had been too harsh. The actor’s fans want their government to take up the matter with New Delhi. Dhaka is likely to do so once the elections are over.