With BJP announcing Pragya Singh Thakur, an accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast case that claimed six Indian lives and injured over 100, as its candidate from the Bhopal Lok Sabha seat, a key shift has taken place not just in Indian electoral politics, but also in post-Vajpayee BJP electoral politics.
True, no law stops an accused terrorist from contesting elections – only a convicted terrorist would be barred. But when even the ruling party’s more reasoned critics were left engaging in the more entrenched aspects of the BJP’s latest ‘polarising’ tactics – verbal threats and attacks launched against ‘bad Muslims’ – with Thakur’s nomination, we cross into the domain of sanctioned communalism. To consider a ‘hate speech’ a breach of EC’s Model Code of Conduct may seem rather twee, considering we now have a candidate suspected of having taken ‘direct action’, a worrisome outcome of taking ‘hate speeches’ to heart.
Much of politics is about perception, electoral politics significantly more so. While Thakur is innocent unless proved guilty the current BJP leadership, till now seen to have ‘grown up’ enough to engage in more pressing and challenging matters like the economy and governance, has put its money on a horse with more than just anti-Muslim ‘pedigree’. It has gone one step further from anointing a Muslimosceptic as chief minister of India’s largest state, by nominating a person accused of being part of a successful terrorist operation – and who ascribes herself with powers of cursing an anti-terrorist squad chief to death in the hands of terrorists – as party candidate.
Even without any tornado, Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.
Of course, pitting a candidate like Thakur against a ‘secular fundamentalist’ like ‘Rahul ka Guruji’ Digvijaya Singh makes sense. It provides the voters of Bhopal with a clear choice: will you choose a Hindutva candidate or an anti-Hindutva candidate? As opposed to a choice between a capable and incapable MP, or even between ‘Modi’s candidate’ and an ‘anti-Modi’ one. If there is a bigger spur for the traditional BJP supporter than the cult of Narendra Modi, it’s the belief that ‘faith Hindus’ are being mistreated. So be prepared to hear more personal sob stories from Thakur in her campaign.
Thakur has not been given a ticket despite being accused of playing a part in an act of terrorism. She’s been given a ticket because she’s been ‘accused’ of (read: credited for) the act. For many BJP supporters, the Malegaon blast was indeed a justifiable act, a response to jihadi terrorism in our country. For many others, Thakur is still being ‘hounded’, even after spending nine years in jail and released in 2015, only to be arraigned in December 2017 (she is out on bail since) for being an ‘outspoken sadhvi’, and in her own words, a victim of Congress ‘anti-Hinduism’.
The truth is, going into polls on May 12 in Bhopal, BJP has launched its brahmastra of sorts against Digvijaya Singh. A scalp here would mean more than just retaining a parliamentary seat. It is also an intent of purpose for voters in other relevant constituencies and states over the next month. Here we have the ruling party of India bringing a suspected terrorist from the Hindu Right’s ‘unorganised sector’ into the responsible organised job market of the world’s largest democratic exercise. Call it ideology-laundering.
Moving away from issues like joblessness, rural distress – and BJP leaders are hardly alone in such straying – Thakur’s induction moves the message even further than ‘mandate against Pakistan’, ‘nationalism’ and spotting ‘anti-nationals’. Never mind ‘the party with a difference’s’ thoughts about the need to field candidates who are, like Caesar’s wife, above suspicion. BJP has now taken recourse to someone very much under suspicion, making the Modi government’s stand on (‘every kind of ’) terrorism, never mind communalism, appear like a lot of hog/eyewash.
BJP, even as it multitasks away with vikas and other non-mandir infrastructural projects, recognises that to stay in the development game it has to, well, stay in the game. It is here, in the tricky terrain of ‘means to an end’ that Thakur’s candidature may be tolerated, even applauded, by those who would have found her presence in the electoral fray uncomfortable.
A line may have been crossed on Wednesday by having a terrorism-accused join the litany of other crimes-accused candidates. But for believers in the efficacy of the Modi government – and by no means are all of them assembly-line ‘bhakts’ – crossing this ever-shifting line isn’t such a calamity. After all, as this line of reasoning goes, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. An idea that doesn’t bother to consider the possibility that there could be anything else wholesome on the menu apart from omelettes.