RSS Acts To Bring Malegaon Accused Pragya Thakur To Contest Lok Sabha Polls From Bhopal

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New Delhi: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) writ ran large in the selection of Malegaon blast-accused Pragya Thakur as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate from Madhya Pradesh’s Bhopal.

Thakur, out on bail after serving nine years in jail in connection with the 2008 Malegaon blast that killed six people, has long been the poster girl of the Sangh’s Hindutva campaign and is also used to exemplify what the organisation sees as the Congress’ “witch hunt of the RSS and the Hindus”.

“The Sangh felt that making her a contestant against Congress’s Digvijaya Singh would be a befitting reply to the Congress for coining the term ‘saffron terror’ to not just witch-hunt the Sangh, but also insult Hindus in general. The message [behind picking her] is clear — Sadhvi Pragya’s victory will wash away the stain of saffron terror,” a senior RSS functionary said on condition of anonymity.

He said the decision had taken a while as the BJP initially did not warm up to the Sangh’s idea on fielding Thakur. The Sangh is the BJP’s ideological parent.

“They agreed after the Sangh dug its heels in and explained why Pragya [Thakur] was the best bet to take on Digvijaya Singh, who has always vilified the Sangh and targeted Hindus,” the functionary said, adding that the RSS has not forgotten the slur of “saffron terror” and was “determined to seek justice”.

“She was tortured for nine years in prison… that cannot be forgotten,” the functionary added.

Thakur’s candidature also signifies the return of the Hindutva to Madhya Pradesh politics - a state where the BJP narrowly lost the December 2018 assembly election to the Congress. To ensure the BJP repeats its 2014 performance, when it won 26 of the state’s 29 Lok Sabha seats, the Sangh cadre is out in full strength.

Another Sangh functionary, who asserted that the organisation does not “meddle with ticket distribution”, conceded that the Sangh did not want the BJP to distance itself from its Hindutva core. Therefore, by picking Thakur, it had sent the message that the 2019 general election would not be fought on development issues alone.

“There are several issues our core constituency has a sentimental connect with - Ram temple, GyanVapi mosque, ban on cow slaughter, and protection of national interests. As a part of the Sangh parivar, the BJP would be failing in its duty if it does not address these in its election campaign,” a third functionary said, asking not to be named.

A senior BJP functionary from Madhya Pradesh explained why the party agreed to Thakur’s candidature.

“Even if there was some discomfort in some quarters, it did not over ride the fact that by fighting against the people who coined the Hindu terror term, she was fighting for a cause. The party thinks it is the people’s verdict that will prove that Hindus cannot be terrorists and that there is no saffron terror,” said the functionary, who asked not to be named.

Although the Sangh says Thakur’s is important because the the organisation has been pilloried for its nationalistic views, Ajay Gudavarthy, a political science professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), said the bogey of Hindus being terrorised is just a tool used by the RSS.

“RSS believes in the predatory politics of threatening those who oppose them. While I disagree with the term ‘Hindu terror’, ‘saffron terror’ is real — we have seen it in universities such as JNU, where anyone who disagreed with the RSS ideology faced threats and intimidation. Giving a ticket to Sadhvi Pragya and not to Sudha Bhardwaj is a message; it proves the politics of Hindutva,” he said.

Since Thakur was named as the candidate from Bhopal — the BJP has won the seat eight times — the saffron party has been criticised on social media by other parties. Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and ex-BJP ally Mehbooba Mufti tweeted, “Imagine the anger if I’d field a terror accused. Channels would’ve gone berserk by now trending a mehboobaterrorist hashtag! According to these guys terror has no religion when it comes to saffron fanatics, but otherwise all Muslims are terrorists. Guilty until proven innocent.”

 

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