The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Poll rivals cross paths, only in temples

Bhopal, Oct. 12: Where television anchors, newspaper barons, captains of industry and NGOs failed, the gods have succeeded.

Chief minister Digvijay Singh and Uma Bharti, the BJP candidate trying to push him out, avoid each other as bitter rivals are wont to before a tough contest. For months, TV channels and other forums have been trying to bring the two on a common platform for a lively debate, but one of them or the other has always backed out.

Their paths cross, invariably, only at temples. Call it love of god or pre-poll jitters, Digvijay and Bharti are again on a temple-hopping spree, roving from Orchha to Ujjain to the Jalpa Devi temple in Digvijay’s hometown of Raghogarh.

A day after the Election Commission announced the poll dates, the two were at the Ram temple in Orchha. When Digvijay reached the temple on Tuesday evening, he was told that “Umaji” was inside. Digvijay chose not to disturb the sadhvi and went to pray at the neighbouring Hanuman temple. As he was leaving for the Ram temple, Bharti’s entourage arrived.

On September 26, Digvijay and his challenger reached the Jalpa Devi temple around the same time. Accompanying the chief minister was younger brother Laxman Singh, fondly called Chunnu Raja. The Singh brothers smilingly waited for three hours as Bharti took the first turn at prayer, saying in god’s abode, everyone had equal rights. Moreover, Raghogarh being the family pocket borough, they were the humble hosts.

Interestingly, Bharti was also accompanied by brother Swami Prasad Lodhi, who had almost joined the rival camp a few months ago.

The last time Digvijay and Bharti shared a platform — six months ago on the outskirts of Bhopal — the two had fought over their “love for the cow”.

Bharti had barged in, saying that as the local MP she had the right to be present at the opening of a cowshed.

She then embarrassed the organisers and guest of honour Swami Mitranand Giri by taking Giri to task for praising Digvijay for cow protection. The chief minister left smiling, but perhaps made up his mind not to share another dais with her.

Even on protocol and social occasions such as the oath-taking ceremony of the chief justice and launch of a new daily in Bhopal, one of them preferred to stay away on grounds of “preoccupation” and prior commitments.

Digvijay and the sadhvi go back a long way, around three decades, when Bharti, as young as six, used to recite the Ram Katha at Raghogarh palace, Digvijay’s ancestral house. Out of devotion, Digvijay and the late Madhavrao Scindia are said to have touched Bharti’s feet umpteen times.

By Bharti’s admission, she always considered Digvijay an “elder brother”, who was decent, well behaved and respectful towards religious persons. But as destiny ranged them on opposite sides of the political spectrum, the “mutual respect” took a severe beating.

Today, Bharti is averse to even Digvijay’s name. “He seems to have changed so much. I do not know where all the values have gone,” she said. Turning contemplative, Bharti said perhaps Digvijay’s desire to stay in power and anxiety to win the elections was prompting him to level “baseless allegations”.

Digvijay maintains he has never levelled personal allegations against the sadhvi. On the political front, he admitted having ridiculed her for first taking sanyas and then striving for power.

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