Pulwama, Pakistan, Pragya: BJP’s PPP in the North

Last Updated 27 April 2019, 18:40 IST

If one looks at the BJP’s poll narrative as it is shaping up after three phases of Lok Sabha polls and the election moves to the North, one may find the party returning to one part of its 2014 playbook – attacking Congress on ‘Hindu terror’. In fact, it is beating up the Congress for the same mistakes from over a decade ago that it used to beat it with in 2014.

Malegaon blast (2008), Batla House encounter (2008) and Samjhauta Express bombing (2007), which the BJP had used to the hilt to paint the Congress as anti-Hindu and pro-Muslim (even pro-terrorists) in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls are back, and this time with a vengeance as it has picked ‘Sadhvi’ Pragya Thakur, who actually stands charged and is facing trial in the Malegaon blast case, from Bhopal.

The new additions are repeated mentions of the Pulwama terror strike and how Modi (that is India) avenged it by attacking a terror camp in Balakot in Pakistan. The latest entry is the Pragya factor.

The Hindi word ‘Pragya’ means enlightened consciousness. But the saffron clad ‘Sadhvi’, the BJP’s new Hindutva poster-girl, is more in the news for her vituperative comments.

Within a week of being fielded with much fanfare to take on the BJP’s favourite punching bag in Congress, Digvijaya Singh, whom the BJP loves to paint as pro-Muslim, Thakur has got two notices from the Election Commission, prompting a “restrain yourself” message from the saffron party.

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An application filed to restrain Pragya from contesting the election was, however, rejected by a Mumbai court, which she immediately hailed as “dharm ki jeet.” But Thakur is still facing charges under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). While the National Investigating Agency (NIA), probing the Malegaon blast, dropped charges under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) and even said there was not enough evidence to prosecute her, the special court rejected NIA’s submission, said there was enough prima facie evidence and framed the charges against her.

Pragya’s nomination has led to some counter-effects. The BJP’s lone Muslim candidate in the Madhya Pradesh assembly polls in December, Fatima Rasoom Siddiqui, demanded that Pragya apologise to Muslims for her comments.

In Mumbai, there was a huge impromptu gathering of people last Tuesday to protest against the Pragya’s remarks that Hemant Karkare, the Mumbai anti-terror police chief, died in the 26/11 attacks because she had “cursed” him.

Controversies apart, BJP is hopeful of gaining from projecting the “cursing” Sadhvi and flagging the “injustice” meted out to her by the UPA regime.

The BJP rank and file feel that Sadhvi was “wronged” and so her victory against Digvijaya Singh would be the right message to those “inimical to Hindus”. So, no less than the prime minister himself defends the decision to field Pragya.

While her candidature took many by surprise, the saffron party fielding her against Digvijaya Singh left no one in doubt as to what narrative the BJP’s election campaign is moving towards.

It’s ‘Hindutva on steroids’, in which the party doesn’t mind projecting even a terror undertrial if that helps polarise voters and pitch the election as a battle against “those who paint Hindus as terrorists”.

The AK Antony Committee, which had gone into the shock defeat of Congress in 2014, had held that the perception of Congress as tilting towards Muslims had consolidated Hindus towards the BJP and needed to be corrected.

It is in this backdrop that the BJP, by fielding Pragya Thakur, is hopeful of once again fanning the alleged “pro-Muslim” tilt of Congress to consolidate Hindu votes. Ever since NIA’s ‘clean chit’ to her and the recent acquittal of Swami Aseemanand in the Samjhauta Express case, the BJP has gone to town accusing Congress of “defaming” Hindus and “hatching conspiracies” against them.

That is why the echo of Digvijaya versus Pragya Thakur will travel beyond the frontiers of Bhopal and Madhya Pradesh.

This is the second seat for which the BJP has fielded a saffron-clad ‘monk’ against a senior Congress leader, the first being Solapur in Maharashtra, where it has fielded Lingayat seer Jai Siddheshwar Swami against former union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde.

The BJP has been attacking Shinde, too, over his ‘Hindu terror’ remark during the UPA-2 government. Shinde had expressed regret over the remark as far back as 2013, a year before the 2014 LS polls, but that has not stopped the BJP from milking the remark for all it is worth even in 2019. If the BJP manages to win both Bhopal and Solapur seats, not only will it have defeated two big leaders of Congress, but it will also go to town that “those speaking against Hindus” have no future in the country’s politics.

Ever since the 1990s, the BJP’s ‘sadhvis’ have helped it amplify its hardline Hindutva message far and wide -- be it Uma Bharti, ‘Sadhvi’ Ritambara or ‘Sadhvi’ Niranjan Jyoti, all three female disciples of Swami Parmanand Giri, who had started working for the BJP after he became the vice president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) Margdarshak Mandal. While Ritambhara quit politics and confined herself to religious and social activities, the other two stayed on.

Bharti became Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh in 2003 and after a chequered run in the BJP’s politics, was again a cabinet minister in the Modi government. Jyoti, who became an MP from Fatehpur Lok Sabha seat in UP and later a union minister, is a rabble rouser.

Addressing a rally in Delhi in 2014, she had made the “Ramzade ki sarkar ya haramzade ki sarkar” remark to project what the electoral battle was all about in 2014.

The party has re-nominated her in 2019, at a time when a number of its sitting MPs have not got tickets to fight the polls. She has also been named a star campaigner. It’s not just Pragya Thakur, but she does take the hardline Hindutva campaign to an altogether new level or, perhaps, to a ‘new abnormal’ in national politics.

(Published 27 April 2019, 18:21 IST)

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