New Delhi: Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur’s latest statement against former Mumbai Anti-Terrorist Squad chief Hemant Karkare has “greatly embarrassed” the Bharatiya Janata Party, which believes its controversial Lok Sabha candidate from Bhopal is a “double-edged sword”. The party, however, says it has little option but to “brazen it out” for now.
Thakur, an accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast case, said Friday that Karkare died because she had “cursed” him. Karkare was killed in action during the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack. The statement has drawn outrage across the board.
According to highly-placed sources in the BJP, the party high command feels this statement “greatly embarrasses” the party, given that Karkare died fighting terrorists and is remembered as a national hero. He was also awarded the Ashok Chakra, India’s highest peace-time gallantry award. The party feels the statement goes against the very tenets of its nationalistic and anti-terror plank.
As chief of Mumbai ATS, Karkare had probed Thakur in connection with the blasts in Malegaon on 29 September 2008 that killed six persons and left over 100 injured.
“Hemant Karkare falsely implicated me and treated me very badly. I told him your entire dynasty will be wiped out. He died of his karma,” Thakur said.
She is pitted against former Madhya Pradesh chief minister and Congress veteran Digvijaya Singh in Bhopal — a seat the BJP hasn’t lost since 1989.
‘Party stance weakened’
A muscular approach towards terror, hyper-nationalism and a narrative built around soldiers and their sacrifices have been key BJP planks, particularly in the run-up to the 2019 polls. Thakur’s statement, however, puts the party in an awkward spot.
“The top leadership feels this has greatly embarrassed the party. BJP keeps questioning others for being anti-national, but our own leader and a candidate is making such an attack against a martyr,” said a highly placed source in the party who did not wish to be identified.
“Where does this leave us? It weakens our stance and goes against what we claim to stand for.”
According to the source, the party feels that while Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah talk of the CRPF personnel who died in the Pulwama attack, Thakur’s brutal remarks against Karkare, who was killed in action, reflects “a glaring imbalance”.
‘Works both ways’
For the BJP, the idea behind giving a Lok Sabha ticket to Thakur, who continues to be an accused in a terror case, was to push its hardline Hindutva agenda, which it believes would help it in the elections. However, her controversial statement has worried the party about the implications of her ill-thought out comments.
“She is a double-edged sword. Having her on board can work both ways. We know she will help project a hardcore Hindutva face, she will help polarise votes in our favour. Just having her contest sends a positive message to our core base, which has been disappointed that not much was done on the Ram Mandir or Citizenship Bill front. This was a carefully thought-out decision,” said another party leader on the condition of anonymity.
Both sources have confirmed that along with the RSS, it was also the top BJP leadership that favoured her candidature.
Thakur was chosen to contest against Digvijaya Singh because the BJP and RSS believe he had pushed the phrase “saffron terror”. With this, the party hoped to send out a message and polarise votes not just in Bhopal, but outside it as well.
However, the second leader said: “But with statements like these, and her tendency to make loose comments, she can embarrass us and cause harm too.”
The first leader added: “There is not much one can do to rein her in. We know what she is like and is capable of saying just anything. We can only hope she will not say anything else like this and that what she brings to the table outweighs all else.”