Riding the crest of a second nationwide Modi wave, the outcome of the 2019 Lok Sabha poll for the 29 seats in Madhya Pradesh has proved to be historic for the BJP in more ways one. The party has, for the first time, won 28 of the 29 seats. Twenty-seven in 2014 was its best-ever tally. This may seem a minor gain on paper, but not if you consider the key importance of the 28th seat: Guna, the Scindia bastion since 1957. That the virtual sweep came in the wake of the party’s slim defeat in the Assembly polls barely six months ago was an added cause of satisfaction to the saffron brigade. The message of the poll was that the entire mandate had been won back, and that the shaky Kamal Nath regime was in danger of being toppled.
Making it possible was the shock defeat of Jyotiraditya Scindia at the hands of his former campaign manager, Dr KP Yadav. Never has a member of the Scindia clan lost Guna ever since the venerable Rajmata of Gwalior, Vijaya Raje Scindia, made the seat her home borough in 1957. Jyotiraditya’s margin of defeat: a sizeable 1.24 lakh votes. Though the State has long been seen as Sangh’s Hindutva laboratory, the traditional Congress bastions of Chhindwara and Guna were impregnable, given the predominance of their overlords Kamal Nath and the Scindias. While the BJP had briefly managed to muscle its way into Chhindwara in 1996, it was soon won back by Nath.
No less satisfying for the BJP was the complete rout of ex-chief minister Digvijaya Singh from the Bhopal Lok Sabha seat at the hands of a first timer, Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, by a whopping margin of nearly 3.64 lakh votes. Given the raja of Raghogarh’s anti-Hindu image, the contest was billed as a “dharmayuddh“, which the BJP won in an emphatic reassertion of Hindu identity against a candidate seen as a minority appeaser to boot. Pragya, on her part, took full advantage of the allegedly false charges heaped on her in the 2008 Malegaon blast case coupled with the physical torture suffered at the hands of the Maharashtra ATS during her nine-year jail stint.
Digvijaya is believed to have poured close to Rs 100 crore into the campaign. There is no trick in his armour he did not employ to win over a chunk of the Hindu vote right from getting 7,000 sadhus to perform a yajna to praying at every noted temple of the constituency. He even set up a ‘war room’ to strategise his voter penetration. More saffron was seen at his meetings than Pragya’s. And given his long political experience, there is no doubt he ran a superb campaign compared to his temperamental and untrained opponent.
Pragya’s utterances against the late Maharashtra ATS chief Hemant Karkare and her self-glorifying role during the razing of the Babri Masjid should ideally have harmed her prospects. Especially after she was put on notice by the EC and her campaign suspended for three days. Precious time was lost. Judged by the huge margin of victory, voters did not seem to care a whit, given their distrust of Digvijaya and his repeated anti-Hindu barbs in the past. Especially his sly role in trying to implicate the RSS in the aftermath of 26/11. An oft-heard refrain of most BJP backers acquainted with the raja‘s brand of politics was: “It is more important to ensure Diggy Raja’s defeat than get Modi reelected.” The raja was seen as a blotch on Hindu pride and sentiment.
Digvijaya was an early starter in the campaign. He had already covered considerable ground by the time the BJP announced Pragya’s candidature. Though the nomination of a “terror accused” earned the party quite a few brickbats, her nomination was in retrospect a deft political move. This, despite her lack of political acumen. Efforts had been made to get Shivraj Singh Chouhan to take on the raja, which the former declined, and thank God for it. Shivraj critics felt getting a former chief minister who had just lost power to fight another defeated former CM would have left the party cadre cold. Bringing in a committed Hindu nominee was thus seen as absolutely essential in a seat with a 25% Muslim populace, almost the whole of which would go the Congress way.