Bhopal: In the battle for Bhopal between Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and Congress’ Digvijaya Singh, a much deeper discontent is brewing inside the BJP on whether a ruling party should throw its weight behind the candidate against whom terrorism charges have been framed in the Malegaon blast case.
“Yehi toh bhraanti hai. This is the actual dilemma. On the one hand, the party (under prime minister Narendra Modi) is fighting this election in the name of ‘raashtravaad‘ (nationalism), and on the other hand, the BJP candidate herself is saying things about Hemant Karkare who sacrificed his life fighting terror,” Indresh Gajbhiye, three-time cabinet minister in all of ex-chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s governments, told ThePrint.
“This shows the two faces of the candidate. It also doesn’t look good for a big, national party to field someone like her. People should have been asked before making a decision on the candidate from Bhopal.
“But the decision seems to have been made right at the top,” he added.
Gajbhiye’s concern is the BJP’s burden. The party knows Pragya Thakur has upset a significant section of Bhopal’s voting population. If the Marathis and Dalits — Gajbhiye is both — stay away because of the Sadhvi’s comments, then she and the BJP could be in trouble.
‘RSS narrative has already succeeded’
Twenty-four hours before Bhopal votes, a fight to the finish is on the cards. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) machinery has been deployed in full force to cushion against a probable loss of votes. This is no longer an ordinary battle, against two ordinary political opponents fighting to win just another constituency.
That’s because Pragya Thakur is no ordinary BJP candidate. She was handpicked by the RSS to face off against Digvijaya Singh, because ordinary BJP leaders like Chouhan and Uma Bharati, both of them fighting on ordinary planks like “vikas” just wouldn’t do.
“It doesn’t matter if the crowds have come out to showcase their support for Sadhvi Pragya or not,” RSS functionary Anil Saumitra told ThePrint.
“Fact is, the RSS narrative to showcase Hindutva has already succeeded as it forced Digivijaya Singh to reframe his own campaign as a born-again Hindu,” he added.
A BJP leader, speaking on the condition of anonymity, admitted that “things have been much tougher” since the Sadhvi made her infamous remarks against Karkare, the former anti-terror chief who died fighting Pakistani terrorists in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
“You have to understand, she is an emotional person, she was in jail for nine years. She suffered a lot,” the BJP leader told ThePrint.
Also read: Sadhvi Pragya Thakur is a god-send — for Digvijaya Singh
Nor has it helped that the Sadhvi continues to reframe her fight against Digvijaya Singh as a “dharma yuddha”, a religious war.
On the last day of her campaign on Friday, as she stood on top of a truck near the state Assembly and secretariat, Thakur said, “Yeh dharma yuddh hai. Usne dharma ko aatankvaad kaha hai. Usne Hindutva ko aatankvaad kaha hai. Usne rashtra bhakton ko aatankvaad kaha hai. (This is a religious war. He has described religion as terrorism, he has called Hindutva terrorism, he has called patriots terrorists.)”
The unnamed rival, Congress candidate Digvijaya Singh, came in for a few more choice descriptions.
“He has deceived the people of Bhopal to become ‘more Hindu’ than he really is. He is feeding fodder to cows, but the cows started crying (‘chaara khilaya, lekin gaay rone lagi’). He has imported sadhus to fight his political battle against her. People must be watchful and see through his game.
“Betrayer. Double-crosser. Turncoat.”
A small, but committed, crowd heard her patiently for nearly an hour under the shade of a tree. Then the truck moved on and the Sadhvi waved and smiles at the crowd — including gesturing to this reporter that she would be willing to talk.
But back at the BJP campaign office on the ground floor of a mall, the Sadhvi walked straight through to her private quarters. A handful of supporters threw a protective ring around her, shouting “Jai Shri Ram” slogans. The rest of the mall was empty. The clamour and crowds associated with a regular election campaign were totally missing.
One of her managers told ThePrint, “Madam, you must understand. Only those names that have been cleared by Delhi will be allowed to meet her.”
‘What is dharma?’
In contrast to the media gag on the Sadhvi was the agreement by former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to meet journalists. He returned from a day-long campaign outside the city past 8 pm, having lost his voice.
But Chouhan, in an effort to neutralise the firebrand Sadhvi’s remarks, refused to frame the Bhopal campaign as a religious war.
“What is dharma?” he asked ThePrint, then went on to answer his own question. “Fighting terrorism is dharma, supporting terrorism is ‘a-dharma’. Fighting justice is ‘dharma,’ supporting injustice is ‘a-dharma.’”
He described as “false” the charges framed against Thakur in the Malegaon blast. “We are concerned about the fact that the incidents of terror were described as ‘saffron terror’ or ‘Hindu terror’, words that had never been used before to describe terrorism.”
Chouhan is clearly fighting the battle on several fronts, including on behalf of Thakur. He and several other BJP leaders realise it’s imperative to mitigate the damage caused by her remarks against Karkare, especially if the RSS decision to field Pragya Thakur as an experiment to promote Hindutva has to succeed.
“Of course the Sadhvi is an outsider, but she was the perfect victim of Digvijaya Singh’s unfortunate “Hindu terror” remarks. The RSS and VHP, with whom the Sadhvi had been associated since her ABVP days, decided she was also the perfect candidate,” a second BJP leader said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
On the eve of the poll, the BJP is certainly leaving no stone unturned to address concerns like those articulated by Indresh Gajbhiye.
The second BJP leader admitted that the Sadhvi “had not been able to strategise her campaign, like Digvijaya Singh. We see that he has kept quiet and not made any controversial statements. In fact, he has become ‘more Hindu’ in an effort to counter the Sadhvi”.
“Digivijaya Singh must get a proper response, a ‘karaara jawaab’ to his two-faced campaign,” he said.
As Bhopal goes to the polls a few hours from now, the battle certainly seems properly joined.
Also read: In the battle for Bhopal, BJP is counting on the silence of Sadhvi Pragya
A high risk strategy. She personally does not bring any sheen to what would have been a safe seat if Shri Digvijaya Singh was not contesting. How the rest of a India sees her candidature is also tough to assess. Not Joan of Arc or Florence Nightingale. People have died, six in the case she is accused of being complicit in. Ten times as many on the Samjhauta Express. Muslims, not to put too fine a point on it. Someone has planned and executed those acts of terror. Hunting them down seems less of a burning mission, somehow.
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