The BJP had won four seats in the district in 2018 while the Congress had won three, snatching two seats from the saffron party.
Bhopal: Bhopal has turned into a BJP citadel in the last three decades but the ruling party can not take it for granted during this month’s Madhya Pradesh assembly elections as the Congress had made serious inroads in the state capital last time.
The BJP has tried to play the identity card in recent months by harping on the city’s history and renaming the railway station for its `last Hindu ruler’, Gond queen Rani Kamalapati.
Bhopal district has seven assembly seats, six of them within the city. While Bhopal South-West, Bhopal North, Bhopal Central and Narela are urban seats, Huzur and Govindpura are considered semi-urban and Berasia a rural constituency.
The BJP had won four seats in the district in 2018 while the Congress had won three, snatching two seats from the saffron party Bhopal Central and Bhopal South-West.
The city has a sizable Muslim presence. It was the only city in the state to send two Muslim MLAs Arif Aqueel from Bhopal North and Arif Masood from Bhopal Central — to the assembly in 2018.
Bhopal North, a Congress stronghold, has been witnessing an interesting political battle this time. This is the first election after 1990 when six-time legislator Arif Aqueel is not contesting due to health reasons, with the Congress fielding his son Atif Aqueel in his place.
Arif had lost to a BJP candidate here only once, in 1993, in the aftermath of the demolition of Babri mosque.
But his son may not have a cakewalk because his uncle — Arif’s brother — Amir Aqueel, a former corporator, and another Congress rebel Nasir Islam too are contesting from the seat.
“I have served the people here for 30 years, stood with them in their difficult times. These people have now asked me to contest the election,” Amir Aqueel told PTI.
The BJP has fielded former mayor Alok Sharma, who cut his political teeth in the walled city which is part of the Bhopal North constituency.
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has fielded former corporator Mohammad Saood from the seat.
The Bhopal South-West constituency which has a sizable population of government employees has elected both Congress and BJP legislators in the last four decades.
Bhopal Central, having a sizable Muslim electorate, has elected a BJP legislator twice, in 2008 and 2013, while Arif Masood of Congress won in 2018 by defeating then BJP MLA Surendra Nath Singh. Masood is in the fray this time against BJP’s Dhruvnarayan Singh, who was the first MLA to be elected from the constituency after it came into existence in 2008.
State minister Vishvas Sarang of the BJP has remained undefeated so far from the Narela seat which too was carved out in 2008. Congress has fielded Manoj Shukla, a new face, from the seat while the AAP has fielded Raesa Malik.
The BJP has won all three elections held for Huzur seat since it was carved out in 2008. Two-term BJP MLA Rameshwar Sharma is again in the fray while Congress has fielded Naresh Gyanchandani who had lost by over 16,000 votes last time.
Govindpura, a BJP citadel for over 45 years, was represented by former chief minister late Babulal Gaur for eight times. His daughter-in-law and sitting MLA Krishna Gaur is contesting on a BJP ticket from here while the Congress has fielded Ravindra Sahu.
Berasia assembly seat was won by Congress only once, in 1998.
In the last few months, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had sought to remind the locals of Bhopal’s history, stating that Rani Kamlapati’s kingdom was usurped by Afghan commander Dost Mohammed Khan through deceit. Notably, Khan’s descendant ruled the princely state of Bhopal.
Rani Kamalapati committed ‘Jal Jauhar’ (ritual suicide) to save her honour during the battle, Chouhan has mentioned in his speeches, as the Habibganj railway station of Bhopal was renamed as Rani Kamalapati Station after renovation.
Senior journalist Alim Bazmi said the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) made Bhopal its “laboratory” about five decades ago when RSS worker Jagannathrao Joshi was fielded on Jana Sangh ticket from Bhopal Lok Sabha seat in 1967. He defeated Congress candidate Maimoona Sultan.
“Bhopal city and the surrounding areas have become a BJP citadel in the past three decades,” he said.
But the electoral battles in Bhopal North, Bhopal South-West, Bhopal Central and Narela have become interesting this time as the political future of the candidates of both the Congress and BJP hinges on winning, he said.
Basic issues like education, healthcare and employment opportunities are missing from the campaign, Bazmi noted.
City BJP president Sumit Pachouri expressed confidence of winning all the seats in the city, but conceded that there is “tough competition” in Bhopal North where voting patterns and issues are different.
Bhopal North, Bhopal Central and Narela are the seats where people vote on communal lines, Pachouri told PTI.
Govindpura and Huzur are BJP strongholds while it will also wrest back Bhopal South-West seat, he claimed.
District Congress chief Praveen Saxena asserted that his party will sweep the state capital.
“State Congress president Kamal Nath has created an organisational set-up at the block, Mandalam-, sector- and booth-level, and the result will be in the party’s favour on all seats….The BJP has been ruling for 18 years but it has no achievements to show for it, he told PTI.
The BJP failed to come up with any development plan for the state and only replicated schemes of Congress governments in other states like subsidised LPG cylinder, Saxena said.
In Bhopal North seat, Arif Aqueel has had a long association with the voters and his son will sail through, he said.
Senior journalist Deshdeep Saxena said that Bhopal has lagged behind in development compared to other state capitals.
“We need to have better healthcare facilities and educational institutions. Over a period of time, Bhopal has become a city of `jhuggis’ and `gumthis’ (slums and roadside kiosks). Traffic snarls are a routine affair. The candidates of both the major parties should talk about these vital issues of urbanisation,” he said.
Though the city is known as a BJP bastion, the Congress won half the seats in 2018, he pointed out.