Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh has agreed to contest from Bhopal after Chief Minister Kamal Nath's challenge about taking on the state's "toughest seat". But he has made it clear that Bhopal is not the seat he would have picked had he been given a choice. The two-time Chief Minister said he would have preferred to contest from Rajgarh - a seat he won twice. But Kamal Nath had vetoed the idea as a soft option, laying the grounds for fresh differences and factionalism, indicate party sources.
Kamal Nath has made it clear that Digvijaya Singh's reservations about the seat do not worry him.
Asked of Mr Singh was happy about the party poll committee's choice, Mr Nath said, "You should ask him about it, but I am happy with it".
Digvijaya Singh, he said, has been state president and chief minister for several years. "Rajgarh does not befit his experience and stature. I requested him to consider Bhopal, Jabalpur or Indore. He said I'll think over it, lastly he said 'You decide'. I said 'I have decided you fight from Bhopal'," Mr Nath told reporters.
A BJP bastion for more than three decades, Bhopal is one of the toughest seats for the Congress to win in the state. The last Congress leader to win it was former President of India Shankar Dayal Sharma. Since then, it has been represented by several leaders, including the state's former Chief Minister Uma Bharati.
Sources say fresh differences between two key leaders could mean trouble for the Congress in a state it has won after 15 years.
For years, the Madhya Pradesh Congress had been hobbled by factionalism, with different groups being led by Digvijaya Singh, Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia. The fourth faction was led by state Congress chief Arun Yadav and former leader of opposition Ajay Singh, sources said.
Sources also say Digvijaya Singh's candidature has thrown the BJP into disarray. While Mayor Alok Sharma and state BJP General secretary VD Sharma were considered front-runners for the seat, the party is now considering a more formidable candidate.
There is a buzz that the candidate might even be three-time Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, accused in the 2008 Malegaon blasts case who was later acquitted by the court, has also expressed her willingness to contest against Digvijaya Singh.
There are several factors that the Congress expects work in Digvijaya Singh's favour.
Of the approximate 19 lakh voters in the constituency, a significant part - 4.5 lakh - are Muslims, who traditionally favour the Congress. The party also holds three of the eight assembly seats that come under the Bhopal constituency. It also has two heavyweight ministers -- one of them is Arif Aqueel and another Digvijaya Sigh loyalist PC Sharma.
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