The Bharatiya Janata Party’s decision to field Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur marks the emergence of the new-age Hindutva warrior in the political domain. The “original” sadhvi in politics, Union minister Uma Bharti possibly realised her time was up and announced the decision of not contesting the polls.
Viewed alongside the denial of party nominations to former presidents Lal Krishna Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi and the former Bajrang Dal chief, Vinay Katiyar, Thakur’s nomination marks the total eclipse of the Sangh Parivar’s original Hindutva combatants. In the coming years, more of Thakur’s kind — the new-age Hindutva mascots — can be expected to be inducted into mainstream electoral politics.
Thakur’s candidature also marks the demise of the era of genteel campaigns by Hindutva warriors atop Light Commercial Vehicles redesigned as raths or chariots. In its place, we now have motorbike riding, even activists wielding guns or other lethal arms. Thakur, who was considered in the initial part of the tenure of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as part of the “fringe force”, now symbolises those who have become mainstream in the past five years.
The “grandeur” of the past agitations or protest marches, with greying leaders waving courteously to assembled throngs, has yielded to the macho motorcycle-riding Hindutvawadi. The protesting Hindu is not just angry, but among those agitating for redressal of the community’s grievances, is the Alpha Protester. Thakur epitomises them, now as a BJP candidate.
Criminality in Indian elections is not new and there is virtually no party which has not fielded candidates with a criminal past. Yet, Thakur is in a different league. To put the record straight, she is yet to be acquitted of all charges and is currently out on bail. She faces trial under rigorous sections of The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in a Mumbai court.
By nominating her to contest from Bhopal against Digvijaya Singh, the BJP has given precedence to its appraisal over a judicial verdict. The party has claimed often in the past, most recently after the Samjhauta blast accused were acquitted, that the UPA government concocted cases against activists of the Sangh Parivar to give Hindus a bad name.
Thakur’s nomination indicates BJP’s unwillingness to wait for the due process of law to be completed. It also enables the party to feed on Hindu victimhood by showcasing her years in detention as an example of the extent to which “anti-nationals” can go to “put down Hindu interests” and the “nation”.
In many ways, her nomination is similar to Amit Shah’s appointment as party president in 2014 although charges were pending against him in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh and Tulsiram Prajapati fake encounter cases. In both instances, the party’s verdict has been given priority over that of the judiciary.
There could not have been a better symbolic target than Digvijaya Singh to let loose the new-age Hindutva mascot. He, after all, has been at the forefront of the ideological battle against the Sangh Parivar. In fact, there was a time when he was among the few cocking a snook at the saffron fold when the majority in his party, including the leadership, was found wilting.
This is, thus, not a personal war between a recent lateral entrant in politics and someone who has been at it for decades. There are more fundamental issues to this contest and the direction of how these would be resolved would be known only after the people’s verdict is known. The Bhopal electorate would not be just choosing its own representative, but much more.
Since 2014, the BJP has repeatedly given dramatic twists midway to the electoral campaign. This time such a possibility had appeared remote, because the Pulwama massacre and the subsequent government retaliation has been a major part of the BJP’s campaign.