Jittery BJP may pit Shivraj Singh Chouhan against Digvijaya Singh in Bhopal
Election, Opinion

Demonising Digvijaya: How vilifying, constantly targeting Diggy helps BJP in Madhya Pradesh

For fifteen years, BJP has been at the helm in Madhya Pradesh. Three straight terms are enough to fulfill many promises and claim votes on the basis of your performance.

But the BJP leaders still focus on the ‘dark era’ of Digvijaya Singh, who was the chief minister until 2003 even though an entire generation that is going to vote now doesn’t remember the period as they have only grown up in BJP’s long rule.

A couple of months ago when election campaign hadn’t picked up, a BJP leader asked the cadre to ensure that they would remind people in rural parts of Madhya Pradesh about the ‘condition’ of the state during Digvijaya Singh’s era.

When chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan addresses rallies, he always recalls ‘Digvijaya Singh’s era’ and claims that BJP has brought MP out of the ‘dark age’.

‘Target Digvijaya’ is part of the strategy of BJP. It works so well that BJP leaders use it, always. In fact, it is quite a long story and one needs to go back to the Congress’ era to recall how it all began.

It’s true that condition of roads was bad in Madhya Pradesh when the second term of Digvijaya Singh was coming to an end. As there was resentment with Digvijaya Singh government, BJP exploited it well in 2003.

BJP had coined the term ‘Mr Bantadhar’ for him–holding him responsible for the mess. But even after the clean sweep in 2003, the BJP cadre continued to target him.

People were unhappy with Digvijaya Singh but the constant attack, affected public mind. And to an extent, Digvijaya’s style did nothing to change it.

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Unlike Shivraj Chouhan who always talks about his rural background and appears humble in public, Digvijaya was quite blunt as chief minister.

While Shivraj Chouhan will promise the moon even though he may be well aware of ground realities (that he can’t make it happen), Digvijaya was straightforward and could say no.

Ironically, people like their politicians to be dream merchants–those who tell (sell) fairytales and make promises even if they can’t deliver. The least is to reject or appear harsh and arrogant.

Hence, it may be justice that if power supply is short, the power cuts were for both rural areas as well as cities. But in urban areas, it was harsh, unbelievable as they were not used to such blackouts–lights gone at 7 pm or 8 pm.

It didn’t create any goodwill in rural areas either, as this was seen as state’s failure. People who came to cities to see them glow, were even more depressed. This was in Congress era.

But that was not all. Government employees across MP were hurt, as they felt they were seen as ‘inefficient’ due to a purported statement or allegedly anti-employee attitude.

They never forgot it. While the message spread, there was no attempt to clarify or change the perception. No wonder, for lakhs of government employees and their family members and kin, Diggy became ‘anti-employee’.

Government employees have the ability to take the sentiment far & wide, as they deal with numerous people, especially, when they are posted in rural areas.

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Even after BJP came to power, the party never let the people forget about the ‘era of Digvijaya Singh’. After Uma Bharti and Babulal Gaur’s stints, Shivraj completed his first term.

Though Digvijaya Singh had taken ‘sanyas’ from MP politics, BJP’s ground-level worker kept reminding people about Digvijaya era. His comments on controversial issues, especially, Hindutva, were raked up.

Travelling in rural areas then only, one could sense that there were people who had begun to believe that Digvijaya was anti-Hindu. There was increasing focus on this aspect.

There is a famous Urdu saying, ‘Bad achcha, badnaam bura’. The strategy brought huge dividends to BJP. The party didn’t need to bat for itself. It was becoming the default party of Hindus in the region.

The opponent had to be demonized so much that would not remain an option at all. So, even when the second term of Shivraj Chouhan was coming to an end(2013), there was still no strong anti-incumbency in Madhya Pradesh–even after 10 years of BJP rule.

People didn’t consider Congress as an option. The strategy had worked to the extent that a person may be weary of Shivraj, even upset, but he won’t hate him. This emotion was reserved for the other leader, the other party.

I still remember the face of an octogenarian, who was a Congress supporter for generations in Hoshangabad, and who suddenly folded hands, while talking about Digvijaya Singh.

‘Woh aisi baat karte hain ki ham Hinduon ko achchi nahi lagti’. Others would use much harsher language, even though they couldn’t exactly tell which particular reason or statement they were angry with.

Two successive terms of BJP, yet it was uncommon to hear people in a group at a tea shop, at a corner of the street or pan shop, talking positively about Congress, unless it was a party worker or someone directly affected by a BJP leader/worker’ acts.

BJP’s 2003 victory was huge. But in the next two elections, Congress leaders hoped that they would win. However, they failed to understand the strong ‘anti-Congress’ sentiment. In both these elections—2008 and 2013, BJP won more than twice the number of seats Congress could win.

Though Singh was not taking interested in state politics but every time he spoke, the BJP leaders’ strong reactions, the charges and counter-charges were lapped up by media (particularly Hindi newspapers in MP), and it kept him in news.

Some truth, some propaganda, but it never stopped. Perhaps that’s what a smart political party would do. The BJP never let people forget about Digvijaya.

The party and parivar’s huge cadre was always there to accentuate it. So, Digvijay was turned into a villain. And, by adding the ‘anti-Hindu’, label they took it to another level. How would the leader or party respond?

Do they have a strategy or the idiom to match or the capability to fight back? Or, it is by becoming more Hindu and competing with BJP, we saw in recent years? We have to see if it pays off.

Right now, BJP is hoping for a fourth straight term in Madhya Pradesh. However, things have definitely changed in MP in the last two years. Now, anti-incumbency is a factor.

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One gets the sense in rural areas, as well as in cities. In fact, after farmers’ agitation and Mandsaur firing, things had started changing. Chouhan doesn’t seem as popular as he was in the past.

But Congress couldn’t project a face. It was only recently that Kamal Nath was made party chief in MP. In rallies, when BJP leaders hold the mike, they still remind people about Diggy era, hoping that the warning would work.

They don’t talk about the numerous smart cities that were promised, not about the investment that was supposed to come, not even the industries that should have been established.

It is said that public memory is short but in MP, BJP ensured that ‘Digvijaya rule’ remained in public memory for so long. We have to wait just a couple of weeks now to find out the mood of the people of Madhya Pradesh.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NEWSD and NEWSD does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

The author is a Bhopal-based senior journalist.

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