Finally failing to persuade any party stalwart to challenge Digvijaya Singh the BJP had to borrow an outsider to take up the task on Bhopal Lok Sabha seat. Perhaps BJP realised that Hindu-Muslim polarisation strategy may alone yield the result.
How much importance the BJP gave to Bhopal can be appreciated by the fact that the party decided to rush its organisation secretary Ram Lal to Bhopal to formally adopt Pragya Thakur as a party member. After three hours of her admission in the party, she was named as party candidate for Bhopal seat. According to BJP insiders Thakur’s candidature has been decided at the behest of RSS, the Sangh fountain head.
After agreeing to contest from Bhopal, Pragya told the media “After spending 10 years in jail due to Congress conspiracy I have come here to fight a political and religious war. I will fight this election to serve the nation. Congress and Digvijaya Singh are no challenge to me or BJP. I have the party organistion’s support.
We will fight unitedly against the people who are conspiring against the nation. We will win this ‘Dharmyudh’.” Digvijaya welcomed the contest and tweeted a video saying “I welcome Sadhvi Pragyaji to Bhopal. Hope you will like the serene, educated and civilised atmosphere of this enchanting city”.
He later told reporters that Pragya Thakur is to him “what any other BJP candidate would have been.” Pragya Thakur had volunteered to take on Digvijay only a day after Congress announced his name on March 23. It took BJP 25 days to take up her offer. In the meantime the Sangh Parivar tried to persuade party stalwart Uma Bharti and Shivraj Singh Chouhan to contest from Bhopal but they declined.
Former chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said “There was no delay by the party in announcing name for the Bhopal Lok Sabha seat. Sadhvi Pragyan’s name has been declared after thorough consideration and at the right time. She is an eligible and capable candidate. Just the announcement of her name is enough for BJP to win this election”.
Six persons were killed and 101 were injured when an improvised explosive device strapped on a motorcycle went off at Malegaon on September 29, 2008. The motorcycle was left near a hotel at Bhiku Chowk. The motorcycle was registered in Pragya’s name.
Two years prior to this, there was another blast in Malegaon near a mosque in which 40 worshippers were killed. The term ‘saffron terror’ was reportedly coined after the 2008 blasts, following the arrest of Thakur and others in the case. Digvijaya Singh has often used the term while targeting BJP. Saffron clad Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur with her trademark short hair and sporting a Rudraksh mala was arrested by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad in this case.
On December 27, 2017 a special NIA court had dropped stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act charges against Lt. Colonel Prasad Purohit, Samir Kulkarni, Sadhvi Pragya and other accused in the blasé case. But she still faces other charges. She was imprisoned for nine years and has alleged that she was tortured during her incarceration that led to spinal injuries.
Currently Pragya is out on bail. Born in Bhind district of Madhya Pradesh Pragya had a long association with the RSS. A post-graduate in history Pragya worked with the RSS student wing Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad and Durga Vahini, women’s wing of he Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
It may be mentioned here that after 1992 riots Bhopal has already become a polarised city. Before that Bhopal was regarded as citadel of Ganga-Jamuni culture. Even at the height of post-partition communal tension Bhopal was island of peace and harmony.
At that crucial time Bhopal gave shelter to Hindu and Muslim victims of communal violence. Shakir Ali, communist leader who was known as Sher-e-Bhopal played crucial role in extending all possible civic amenities to those who came to Bhopal. But this decades old island of peace became scene of communal flare up following the demolition of Babri Mosque.
At that time BJP led government was ruling the state. The 1992 riots polarised the city and for the first time a BJP candidate was elected from the old Bhopal assembly constituency. BJP now hopes that polarised Bhopal may result in the victory of its candidate. At present out of 8 segments of Bhopal, 3 are with the Congress and 5 with the BJP. Out of three Congress MLAs, two are Muslims. It is premature to speculate how other constituencies will be affected by Pragya’s candidature. But the possibility to polarise the constituencies surrounding Bhopal is not ruled out.
L S Herdenia is a freelance journalist. Views are personal.