Bhopal: Donning a saffron robe with a red tilak on her forehead, well versed in Ramcharitmanas or Ram Katha, and seeking votes door-to-door with folded hands – that’s Ram Siya Bharti, a 34-year-old sadhvi. And no, she is not a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate. She is a Congress’ candidate from Malehra constituency of Chhatarpur district in Madhya Pradesh.
Malehra is one of the 28 Assembly seats that is going for bypolls on November 3.
The Madhya Pradesh Congress has been facing accusations of pushing a soft Hindutva agenda in a bid to counter BJP – from the construction of ‘1,000 gaushalas’ to Ram Van Gaman Path, construction of Sita Mata temple in Sri Lanka -- has finally found its Uma Bharti in the State, say some political observers.
Ram Siya Bharti belongs to the same place and community (Lodhi) as veteran BJP leader and former Chief Minister, Uma Bharti. Both have many similarities -- they share a common surname, have association with the Lodhi caste, and are katha vachak (narrators) sadhvis (Hindu nuns) who got election tickets from the same seat.
Interestingly, Uma Bharti, who was a katha vachak, was first noticed by late BJP leader Vijaya Raje Scindia, who later paved the way of her political career.
Born in Atrar village in Tikamgarh district, Ram Siya Bharti, was adopted at the age of three by her maternal aunt who did not have children. Since she was fond of religious texts, she became a sadhvi at the age of eight. At present, she lives in her ashram in Bahmani Ghat near Malehra, and reportedly has a strong base among devotees and Lodhi community voters.
‘Jai Shri Ram’ Slogan in Congress Rally
In yet another reflection of Congress adopting soft Hindutva in MP, the slogans usually raised in BJP rallies have now become an integral part of Congress’s Malehra candidate’s campaign. Bharti raises slogans such as Bharat Mata ki jai, Bhagwan Shri Ram ki jai, Hanuman Ji Maharaj ki jai and in only in the end says ‘Congress party zindabad.’
Bharti begins her rallies with the name of Lord Ram and verses from the epic Ramcharitmanas, then moves to Hanuman and Congress party leaders. Comparing the opposition BJP leaders to demon characters in religious books, Ram Siya Bharti is using every trick in the book to woo the voters.
“The BJP not only betrayed and breached the trust of voters but also did nothing for the state. They seek votes in the name of religion, Ram, cow, but create chaos, enmity among fellow Indians. This is against the preaching of Hinduism and I’m here to change it,” the Congress candidate said in a rally.
“They never did anything for cows except politicising it. But the Congress not only constructed 1,000 cowsheds, but also hiked the daily fodder expenses of a cow from Rs 4 to 20. Not only this, we have waived farm loans of 26 lakh farmers in just 15 months,” she said.
In most of her rallies, Bharti also speaks about unemployment, development and how the dal badlus (defectors) who deserted the party and betrayed the trust of people. "I'm here to take revenge for the betrayal," she claims.
In 2018, Bharti had sought a Congress ticket from the Malehra seat but the party opted for Praduman Singh Lodhi’s name, who won the seat in an election dominated by the yadav and lodhi communities.
But, Lodhi, who claimed to be close to Uma Bharti, switched to BJP three months after the fall of Congress government in the State in July and was appointed chairperson of a state undertaking.
He is now a BJP candidate from Malehra and Uma Bharti is expected to campaign for him. Both the Congress and BJP have fielded candidates from the Lodhi community, but it is the yadavs who hold the key in this contest.
Congress Defends Candidate
When asked why she joined Congress instead of BJP, which claims to be a pro-Hindu party, Bharti said: “I like the Congress’ idea of India.”
“My grandfather was a freedom fighter. My father was a Congressman, so am I. We have always been with the party. I desist the BJP’s idea of India. I see no dichotomy in wearing saffron and being a Congress candidate,” she added.
Nevertheless, Bharti is also facing opposition within the party after Congress announced her candidature. A few local Congress leaders, Anand Singh, Tilak Singh Lodhi, a local contender for the Congress nomination, were upset with her. “I will talk to all those who are upset and am confident I can bring them around to support me,” Ram Siya told the media.
Ram Siya Bharti is the third sadhvi in Madhya Pradesh’s electoral politics after Malegaon terror accused Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, who was elected as Member of Parliament from Bhopal on BJP’s ticket in 2019 General Elections and former Chief Minister Uma Bharti. However, she is the first sadhvi to be fielded by Congress.
Speaking on her campaign, Chhatarpur Congress chief, Manoj Trivedi, said: “We have been getting a huge response from voters, especially women. She is very soft-spoken and talks about unemployment and development in rallies.”
“Since she is a sadhvi and has been addressing large crowds since childhood, she confidently and politely addresses the rallies and also counters every question related to Hinduism and BJP’s idea of religion by the book,” he added.
BJP Hits Back
The entry of a sadhvi candidate from Congress in the electoral fray has created flutter in the ruling BJP.
Talking to mediapersons, BJP’s Malehra candidate Lodhi said: “No one becomes a saint by only wearing a saffron robe. One should not mix religion with politics. Both are separate entities. Let the people decide our fate.”