For the BJP, Rahul’s decision was a portent of imminent nationwide victory. ‘I think the day Rahul “ran away” from Amethi and decided to contest from Wayanad, we knew this election was over,’ said Arun Jaitley, ‘The only reason he chose Wayanad is because it has a large minority population, basically he was acknowledging what we have been saying from the beginning: the Congress is now a minorities-only party!’
In a rally in Wardha in Maharashtra, Modi echoed this line: ‘Those who were called terrorists have now woken up. We [Hindus] consider the whole world as one family and they insulted us [by calling us terrorists]. They are now afraid of the majority and the punishment given by Hindu terrorists has forced them to take refuge in a place where the majority has become a minority.’ The prime minister’s provocative remarks appeared to be a deliberate attempt to play the Hindu–Muslim card: despite a formal complaint from the Congress, the EC took no action against Modi, and eventually gave him a clean chit.
Interestingly, just a few days later, the BJP announced the candidature of Pragya Singh Thakur, better known as Sadhvi Pragya, from the prestigious Bhopal seat. The saffron-robed, rabble-rousing leader had been charged as a co-conspirator in the 2008 Malegaon bombings in which six people were killed and over a 100 injured. While the National Investigation Agency withdrew the charges under the anti-terrorism MCOCA act against her in 2017, she was still under trial for multiple charges under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and was out on bail on health grounds. A pattern was discernible where all those accused of ‘saffron terror’ were being systematically let off by the courts since the BJP came to power in 2014.
That the BJP had chosen someone who was still facing terror charges for a Lok Sabha seat reveals an unabashed disregard for the rule of law, quite apart from a conscious attempt to stoke communal divisions. ‘A fake case has been made out in the name of Hindu terror,’ snarled Amit Shah, defending Pragya’s candidature. She was Shah’s personal choice, disregarding stray contrary voices within the party. ‘Yes, I don’t think we should have given Pragya a ticket, it sends out the wrong message, especially to our middle-class voter,’ Jaitley would later tell me. Shah though had his own reasoning. The Congress, fresh from its assembly election win, had chosen two-time chief minister Digvijaya Singh for the contest. The moment Digvijaya’s name was announced, Shah’s political antennae shot up. Digvijaya Singh was one of the Congress leaders he disliked intensely, viewing him as part of a ‘lobby’ that had conspired against him and the hardline Hindutva groups. Pragya, he felt, was the right nominee to ‘expose’ the Congress’s alleged ‘anti-Hindu’ bias. The prospect of political benefit through heightened communal polarization was clearly on his mind.
When the results were declared Pragya had won the Bhopal seat by over 3 lakh votes. In Amethi, Smriti Irani had defeated Rahul in a stunning upset by over 55,000 votes. Rahul did win Wayanad by a huge 4 lakh margin. Dynasty politics had been conquered. A shrinking southern outpost was now the last refuge of the once mighty Congress. The political map of India and its power equations had been well and truly altered. Hard Hindutva had triumphed.
This excerpt from Rajdeep Sardesai’s 2019: How Modi Won India has been published with permission from Harper Collins.