After some initial dithering, the BJP and the Sangh Parivar have decided to turn the arrest of Sadhvi Pragya Singh into an emotive campaign issue in states going to polls. Initially, when the Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) arrested the Sadhvi on October 25 on charges of terrorism, the BJP had said the law would take its course. The party appeared keen to distance itself from the controversy.
The BJP was then unsure about the political fallout of people close to it being arrested on charges of terrorism. But now the BJP believes that the arrest of a Sadhvi and a soldier, Lt Col, S.P. Purohit, can be turned to its own advantage to stir up its version of nationalism and win some votes.
“We have assessed the situation carefully and reached the conclusion that there is a groundswell of support for the sadhvi. Our voters see her arrest as a Congress conspiracy,” said a senior BJP leader who was instrumental in the shift in stance of the party. The new approach is being emphatically pursued, while the Congress, evidently on the defensive, is eschewing the issue altogether in its campaign.
Most of the 30 odd BJP leaders who campaigned in 70 locations in Madhya Pradesh on Monday raised the issue. “ A true Hindu cannot be a terrorist, ” said BJP president Rajnath Singh at Chhatarpur, accusing the UPA government of raking up ‘Hindu terror’ to divert attention from its failures. Party leader Dr M. M. Joshi echoed the same views in Gwalior. “’Terrorist’ and ‘Hindu’ are mutually contradictory words- an oxymoron,” he declared. All speakers said the Congress government was “maligning Hindus.” MP is the Sadhvi Pragya Singh’s home state.
Gujarat CM Narendra Modi, known for his unique style of oratory, said during his campaign in Chattisgarh: “"What Pakistan failed to achieve in its attempt to brand Indian army as terrorist in the last 20 years, the present Congress government facilitated in just 20 days."
In Rajasthan too, another poll-bound state, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) is planning an agitation against Sadhvi's "harassment." "It is a political conspiracy of the Congress Government to malign the Hindu religion and the organizations,” said a senior VHP Sriraghvacharya Vedanti.
(With Rakesh Dixit in Bhopal and Ejaz Kaiser in Raipur)