When Rajkumar Patel filed his nomination to contest the Lok Sabha elections from Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh, the buzz was that he was once again playing a hand to help Sushma Swaraj win, albeit indirectly this time round.
In 2009, Ms. Swaraj got a walkover when Mr. Patel’s nomination as Congress’s official candidate was rejected for not filing the papers on time. He was subsequently suspended from the party for indiscipline, and accused of being “bought over.”
After he was expelled from the party, he filed a petition in the Jabalpur Bench of the High Court to prove his innocence. The matter is still pending.
“I am contesting this election only to clear my name and prove my innocence,” Mr. Patel told The Hindu just before leaving for New Delhi to meet the Congress High Command and seek the official mandate from Vidisha.
“The party can always change the candidate. It has happened at some places. I have the first claim on Vidisha,” he said making it clear that if the Congress does not withdraw the candidature of Laxman Singh, Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh’s younger brother, he would go Independent.
Unable to convince the party, Mr. Patel is now contesting as an Independent candidate. Mr. Patel shares close ties with Mr. Digvijaya Singh and was a Minister in his government. So, his decision to contest against Mr. Laxman Singh is a mystery to be unravelled.
Mr. Laxman Singh has been a Lok Sabha member five times from Rajgarh – four times on Congress ticket and once from BJP. He quit BJP in 2010 and joined the Congress once again.
Mr. Patel says he would have been in the BJP if he not for his loyalty to the Congress. He displays ‘favourable’ court orders and rattles off impressive vote percentage in various Assembly elections, even against Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan in a by-election, former Chief Minister Sunderlal Patwa and others.
Mr. Patel’s presence in the fray has added an interesting dimension to an otherwise one-sided contest.
“What more damage can Mr. Patel do than what he did in 2009?’’ asks Virendra Pitlia, president of the City Congress Committee, when asked if Mr. Patel’s candidature would dent Mr. Laxman Singh’s prospects.
The ground reality, however, is that the Congress and the BJP offices in Vidisha are not yet functional. “The Congress cadres are charged up for the campaign,” say party workers.
On the other hand, voters at a roadside tea stall point say, “The constituency goes to polls on April 24 and the BJP does not even have an office here.”
Venting their anger against Ms. Swaraj, they say she has hardly visited the area. “First, she is an outsider and second, she is too busy in Delhi because of her bigger role at the national level. She has done nothing for us… But, yes, she will win smoothly riding on the ‘Modi’ and ‘Shivraj Chauhan’ wave,” says Manoj.
In 2009, Ms. Swaraj won with a record margin of 3.89 lakh votes. This time all eyes are on the margin of victory she can achieve. Detractors within the BJP say Ms. Swaraj is totally dependent on Mr. Chauhan for success.