BJP's Sushma Swaraj fights against Lakshman Singh of the Congress for the Vidisha Lok Sabha seat in Madhya Pradesh.

Voters surprised poll pundits by selective voting in Vidisha assembly constituency on Thursday, where parliamentary polls simultaneously took place. The dual election was necessitated by Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan vacating the assembly seat after winning from both Budhni and Vidisha.

In the bye-poll, BJP's Kalyan Singh contested against the Congress's Shashank Bhargava who lost to Chouhan by almost 17,000 votes last year. BJP leader and the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, is battling against Congress state vice-president Lakshman Singh, the younger brother of former Chief Minister and party general secretary Digvijaya Singh, in the parliamentary poll.

The twin factors of perceived disrespect by vacating the seat and, the fielding of a low-key candidate may work in favour of the Congress. Mr. Bhargava sensed the undercurrent and requested the district administration, on Wednesday, to ask polling officials to tell voters which machine is for which poll.

While all polling booths this paper visited had stickers or markings indicating which machine was for which poll, no polling officer informed voters verbally. In every booth this reporter witnessed illiterate voters, especially the elderly, asking officials which machine was for which poll. Ironically, most Congress polling agents were as disinterested as the polling staff.

Seventy-year old Radha Malviya told this paper that she was afraid of asking too many questions to officials. "They must tell us on their own. I am illiterate but I know that we must send one leader from our town to Bhopal and one leader from entire (parliamentary) constituency to Delhi. They did not even let my daughter come and help me to vote," she said.

Karan Dangi, a BJP volunteer who manned a voter assistance booth at a street corner said, "We knew it is a tough fight but we didn't think it will be right out in the open. People are openly indicating their choice. There is no fear."

An excited Mr. Bhargava went from booth to booth asking his polling agents to tell every voter on the voting issues. On finding an unresponsive agent at a booth in Trinity Convent School, Bhargava yelled at him in public.

"They (agents) don't understand that not everyone can read. They must tell every voter which machine is for which election. There are officials misleading people, but we can still win this seat," an exasperated Bhargava told The Hindu.

What makes a Congress victory unbelievable, even for its own workers, is the fact that the party has only won twice in this Hindutva nationalist stronghold since independence. The last time a Congress MLA was elected was in 1972. If anything, it is the Congressman's lack of imagination that may result in defeat once again for the party.

A tea vendor close to the polling booth in the town's municipal office told this paper that Bhargava was more active than the entire District Congress Committee.

"He (Bhargava) knew it yesterday itself but his workers only realised it when voters started coming to booths asking questions to differentiate machines. They should be asking people with folded hands to go vote like the BJP does," said the hawker who withheld his name.

The town will remain on tenterhooks till counting on May 16, to see if Mr. Bhargava is able to breach the saffron fort.