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Why Madhya Pradesh BJP is banking on legacy of strident RSS critic & Congress veteran Arjun Singh

Former Union minister is one of biggest leaders from this region in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh. Electoral setbacks in last two years have made BJP to rethink its Vindhya strategy.

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New Delhi: Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan unveiling a statue of Congress veteran and former Union minister Arjun Singh in Bhopal is being construed as a shrewd political move ahead of this year’s polls in the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP)-ruled state.

After unveiling the statue Tuesday, Chouhan also announced that Mauganj, a tehsil of Rewa district, would be the 53rd district of Madhya Pradesh.

Singh had been chief minister thrice in 1980s and served in the Union cabinet of prime ministers P.V. Narsimha Rao and Manmohan Singh. He is regarded as one of the biggest leaders from Vindhya region.

At the same event, Congress veteran Digvijaya Singh called the three-time chief minister his mentor in politics.

But the installation of the statue was not easy as it faced legal hurdles and politicking before Chouhan sensed an opportunity in honouring the late Congress leader, said Congress insiders.

Incidentally, it was the Congress government which decided in 2019 to install the statue at Bhopal’s Nanke petrol pump intersection. But, the BJP protested claiming that a bust of freedom fighter Chandrasekhar Azad was removed from the site for widening of road. The BJP also demanded that Azad’s bust should be reinstated at the site.

Last year, the Madhya Pradesh High Court ordered removal of various statues including that of Arjun Singh in pursuance to a Supreme Court order not allowing such installations on roads, pavements, sideways and public utility places. Subsequently, the Bhopal Municipal Corporation removed the statue from trisection and shifted it to Vyapam Square.

Another twist came when BJP MLA Narayan Tripathi, who switched from the Congress and hails from Vindhya region, wrote to Shivraj in February that the inauguration be held before 4 March. Tripathi even reached the site and backtracked only when he learnt that the CM will inaugurate the statue.

“I began my politics by sloganeering ‘Arjun Singh zindabad’. I don’t care about the party and ticket. Arjun Singh is above party politics. He is an icon and is respected by all for his good politics,” Tripathi told reporters.

Also Read: Focus on development, steer clear of religious controversies: Nadda to BJP MPs at virtual meet

Why Vindhya matters to BJP 

Despite Arjun Singh’s legacy, the Congress slowly lost grip of the Vindhya region where its best performance in recent years was in 2013 when it won 12 seats.

Rewa, Satna, Singrauli, Sidhi and Anuppur districts together comprise Vindhya region which overall sends 30 MLAs to the Madhya Pradesh Assembly.

After winning 24 seats in the region in 2018, the BJP lost in Raigaon even though it won Jobat and Prithvipur in the 2021 assembly bypolls. Raigaon in Satna district was a big loss as the Congress won it after 31 years. The Congress and the AAP winning the mayoral elections last year in Rewa and Singrauli has further alarmed the BJP in Madhya Pradesh.

“This region has been dominated by Thakurs, Brahmins and tribals. Arjun Singh was a big Thakur leader. By honouring him, his sympathisers will move towards us. BJP is a big party and ready to honour all leaders not only from our ideology but from other ideologies. There is no harm in honouring Arjun Singh and giving him respect,” a BJP general secretary of MP told ThePrint.

A BJP office bearer, who comes from Vindhya region, conceded that the recent win of the AAP and the Congress in mayoral polls “alarmed the party to do homework for the region”.

Seen in this context, CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan has taken two populist decisions, including the announcement about Mauganj, to reach out to the people of this region.

“Vindhya region has 24 MLAs but only one minister was inducted in the cabinet from the region. This new move (of a new district) will address concerns of the region and bring down resentment,” a BJP insider told ThePrint.

In February, Union civil aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia and Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan laid the foundation stone of a new airport in Rewa where it would be made operational by 2025. The Madhya Pradesh government has already approved 246 acre of land for the project.

BJP’s Rewa district president Ramratan Payal told ThePrint that people of this region have to commute 250-300 km to Jabalpur or Allahabad for air travel. “But after this (airport is made operational), several districts of Vindhya region like Sidhi, Satna, Shahdol, Umaria, Singrauli will benefit,” he added.

“This region is backward but after the availability of water through canals, aspirations for development have come up. Railway connectivity reached late. People are now demanding an airport and highways. It is the duty of the state government to fulfil the aspirations of the people and this is why the government is focusing on the Vindhya region. Mayoral and assembly elections are different. While we are strong in the region, our efforts are to consolidate further,” State BJP general secretary Sharadendu Tiwari told ThePrint.

(Edited by Tony Rai)

Also Read: Why BJP MP who beat Jyotiraditya in 2019 took a potshot at Scindia royals, invoked 1857

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