In a controversial move, the BJP listed Malegaon blast accused Pragya Thakur as their candidate from Bhopal to take on Congress leader and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh.
Pragya Thakur was arrested in connection with the 2008 Malegaon blast. On September 29 of that year, a bomb went off near a mosque in the northern Maharashtra town killing six and leaving over a hundred injured. Prosecutors on the case stated that this was the work of a Hindu right-wing group. Thakur, however, was given a clean chit by the National Investigative Agency (NIA) citing no conclusive evidence against her. However, a trial court did not accept the NIA’s conclusion saying in part, “There is evidence to suggest that the accused number one (Thakur) had knowledge about the involvement of her motorcycle”. In 2017 she was granted bail by the Bombay High Court.
It must be noted that Thakur hasn’t been acquitted in the case. The fielding of Thakur, someone who openly spouts Hindu nationalist rhetoritic is not entirely surprising considering the Prime Minister and BJP chief Amit Shah both have chequered pasts in this regard. However, it does reek of hypocrisy considering many in the BJP are quick to label those critical of the government and its mission as anti-national and its tough talk on terror. Barkha Dutt, in a column
for the Hindustan Times writes on why the decision to field Thakur in anti-national –
“Her rallies, press conferences and speeches will get massive play as the media will invariably normalise her. The BJP routinely hands out certificates of nationalism and tags anyone who disagrees with the dominant narrative as a traitor; today, it is openly advocating for an accused in a terrorism case. If this is not anti-national, what is?
BJP Chief Amit Shah has backed Thakur saying her nomination was the right decision. At a media conference he said in part, “It is absolutely a right decision. The allegations against her are baseless.” Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis defended her candidature saying in part, “There is no Hindu terror. This was a false narrative built by the previous government.” Prime Minister Modi, in a TV interview, weighed in and followed suit defending Thakur and deflected to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots as a point of comparison. But as Manini Chatterjee, in The Telegraph points
out, Modi is being picky about history and terrorism –
“As citizens outside the electoral fray with no such compulsions, we are free to dissect Modi’s pastiche of lies and myths that distort both history and contemporary reality. He seemed oblivious to the fact that… the riots in Gujarat under his watch were also a case of terror. The targeted lynchings of cattle traders, killing of men for wearing a skull cap or allegedly storing beef in their refrigerator are instances of majoritarian terror, which has become the new normal over the past five years.
The vigorous defence of Thakur by the BJP faithful makes it clear that the party keeps its national and Hindu identity as paramount in the face of the rule of law. Fielding Thakur doesn’t break any laws, but as practicing lawyer Sarim Naved writes
in The Wire, the decision to do so is unethical and makes a mockery of the legal system –
“Considering the history of this case, it is clear that nominating Thakur from Bhopal is a political move by the BJP, not necessarily because they think she is innocent, but because she is a useful tool for polarisation. This is a message to the people and to the courts as well that the BJP will do as it pleases without taking into consideration the legal process or the victims of this bombing and their families.
This, even after Thakur made disgraceful comments on fallen hero and former Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare who was killed during the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai; claiming she cursed him, which she believed led to his death. At a press conference in Bhopal, Thakur said in part, “He said, ‘I will do anything to get evidence against her. I won’t let her go. I had told him you will be destroyed, and he was gone in less than two months.” In the same press conference she called him anti-national and anti religion. She later retracted her comments.
She has alleged torture when she was in custody and in an interview
to Indian Today TV, she expanded saying in part, “I cannot express in words the torture, the filthy expletives I suffered while I was in police custody for eleven days. My sanyasi appearance was reviled.”
In light of the comments made by her against Karkare, eight former DGP’s from Kerala, Punjab, Assam, Maharashtra to name a few criticised the comments and defended the honor of someone who gave his life defending others’. The statement read in part, “This despicable and regrettable statement of Pragya Thakur only serves to highlight the need to publicly recognise the supreme sacrifice made by the 35,000 police personnel from all corners of India.” SS Virk, former DGP of Punjab and Maharashtra in a column
for the Indian Express writes in defence of Karkare –
“Thakur perhaps forgot that besides Karkare, 15 other officers and men of the Bombay police and dozens of innocent citizens were also killed on 26/11. Truth is that Sadhvi and Masood Azhar both wanted to kill Karkare; both celebrated his death, though for different reasons. Will such irresponsible behaviour on the part of rulers not harm society or its secular fabric? Rest in peace, Hemant. You gave the ultimate sacrifice.
More columns by Varun Sukumar