By fielding Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, the mascot of radical Hindutva and an accused in the Malegaon blast case, in the Bhopal Lok Sabha race, the BJP has vitiated an already polarised campaign. Known for her incendiary speeches, Sadhvi Pragya 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. Though technically there may not be any bar on her contesting the elections because she has not been convicted by any court of law, her candidature raises serious moral questions.
It appears that the era of genteel Hindutva campaigners, represented by the likes of LK Advani, has given way to more rabid and unapologetic warriors for whom violent tactics can be a means to justify the end. Sadhvi Pragya was associated with the radical Hindu outfit Abhinav Bharat and Durga Vahini, the women’s wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
On September 29, 2008, at least six people died and several were injured in two blasts in Maharashtra’s Malegaon. She was one of the accused and was jailed in the case. With Sadhvi Pragya joining the BJP and swiftly being declared as the party candidate for Bhopal, the mainstreaming of what was earlier considered fringe elements is now complete. Brash and in-the-face brand of Hindutva that revels in the binary narrative of nationalism versus ‘Tukde Tukde gang’ has now come to occupy the centre stage of the ruling party’s ideological positioning.
True, no law stops an accused terrorist from contesting elections – only a convicted terrorist would be barred. But when even the ruling party’s more reasoned critics were left engaging in the more entrenched aspects of the BJP’s latest ‘polarising’ tactics – verbal threats and attacks launched against ‘bad Muslims’ – with Thakur’s nomination, we cross into the domain of sanctioned communalism. To consider a ‘hate speech’ a breach of EC’s Model Code of Conduct may seem rather twee, considering we now have a candidate suspected of having taken ‘direct action’, a worrisome outcome of taking ‘hate speeches’ to heart.
Much of politics is about perception, electoral politics significantly more so. While Thakur is innocent unless proved guilty the current BJP leadership, till now seen to have ‘grown up’ enough to engage in more pressing and challenging matters like the economy and governance, has put its money on a horse with more than just anti-Muslim ‘pedigree’. It has gone one step further from anointing a Muslimosceptic as chief minister of India’s largest state, by nominating a person accused of being part of a successful terrorist operation – and who ascribes herself with powers of cursing an anti-terrorist squad chief to death in the hands of terrorists – as party candidate.
Providing a glimpse of a bitter debate ahead, she started her campaign on a bizarre note saying that former Anti-Terrorist Squad chief Hemant Karkare died as she had cursed him for treating her badly during the police custody. Karkare was killed, along with two other senior police officers, while fighting terrorists during the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. The choice of Sadhvi Pragya flies in the face of the BJP’s avowed slogan of ‘Sabka saath sabka vikas’ and exposes the hollowness of its zero-tolerance policy towards terrorism and communalism. After all, she is an accused in terrorism-related case.
The candidature of Sadhvi Pragya completely exposes the communal agenda of BJP and brings the bigotry to the mainstream. Her inflammatory remarks have already created furore all across the country and it will be a regressive step for Indian Democracy if figures like her yield political power.